Sustainability in the Feed Industry

09 September 20229 min reading

Sarah Mann
Technical Manager

In order to make a sustainability plan or strategy successful, commitment and leadership needs to come from above – CEOs and corporate boards should be fully engaged in the strategy, the process and take ownership of the objectives and meeting them.


Sustainability is defined on a broad level as meeting the needs of today, without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs. In this definition sustainability can mean many different things and has a much wider remit than the traditional view of environmental issues such as climate change and GHG emissions. 

In 2015, all UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.¹ At a global and national level, it is useful to consider how any actions, whether at an official or regulatory level, or at an individual organisation level, contribute to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Sustainability is made up of three pillars – Economic, Social and Environmental – or more informally as People, Profits and Planet. ‘People’ recognises the social aspects of sustainability, not just employees, but also being a good neighbour or member of the community to benefit the wider environment in which your organisation exists. ‘Profit’ encompasses the economic aspects of sustainability, from the sustainability or longevity of your organisation as a business, to responsible investment, and corporate governance which aligns the needs of stakeholders with that of the organisation’s values, community, and customers. ‘Planet’ unsurprisingly includes the more familiar aspects of the environment, responsible resource use, emissions, water, etc.

In order to make a sustainability plan or strategy successful, commitment and leadership needs to come from above – CEOs and corporate boards should be fully engaged in the strategy, the process and take ownership of the objectives and meeting them. 

With such a wide remit to sustainability, where does an organisation begin to develop a sustainability strategy? Some companies may find it useful to start with their existing business plan and identify where the company objectives already have a sustainable angle, or where an objective can be made to be more sustainable. In this way you can become more transparent about your sustainability activities, which in turn improves the corporate image of the organisation, attracting or retaining not only customers but employees and talent. This in time may evolve into a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) or ESG (Environmental Social Governance) Report which are commonly produced by organisations already on their sustainability journey.

Many companies choose to participate in a sustainability scheme and achieve certification to demonstrate their credentials. These schemes are often independently checked or audited in some way by a third party, which further adds value and credibility to the claims, as well as providing the opportunity to identify areas for improvement, and over time show progression towards a more sustainable future. There are many such schemes which may make it difficult to know where to start. Gafta has therefore created a Sustainability Hub on their website, listing the schemes which are relevant to agricultural commodities and trade, identified by its members who are already on their sustainability journey.²


According to the American Feed Industry Association, the agricultural community must produce 70% more food over the next 30 years to feed the growing human population. They define sustainability as “providing a continuous, safe and nutritious food supply for poultry, livestock, fish and pets in a manner that optimizes environmental quality and the use of natural resources, while positively affecting the social and economic wellbeing of customers, their communities and their industry.”³

With increased pressure to produce more crops and animals on the same amount of land, while ensuring natural habitats such as forests, savannahs and wetlands continue to thrive, the animal feed industry, like all agricultural industries, has a responsibility to help conserve natural resources and to embrace new technologies that help farmers become more efficient in producing meat and animal products for human consumption. This also includes engaging better with consumers along the supply chain, especially retailers and end-consumers to provide reliable information and education so they can make informed choices when feeding their families. Supporting local communities, particularly those producing animal feed ingredients, is also another way to support sustainable practices within the industry. 

Often sustainable practices can be seen to be in opposition to each other, and this is particularly prevalent in the animal feed/animal production industry. For example, for improved animal welfare, slower growth rates, more extensive systems, compulsory grazing periods may be at odds with efficiency in terms of feed conversion rates and higher GHG emissions. In this way, sustainability means different things to different people, industries, countries, systems, and there is no wrong or right approach so long as a contribution to a sustainable future can be made and measured. There are improvements to be made in all systems, regardless of how ‘sustainable’ they appear on the surface, and there is an argument for the feed industry to be more transparent and vocal about the benefits of animal production for the sustainability of the planet. 

In response to the European Commission Farm to Fork Strategy⁴  Communication in May 2020,  FEFAC, the European Feed Manufacturers Federation published the Feed Sustainability Charter 2030⁵  outlining five core ambitions for the feed industry in Europe, including concrete actions and commitments by FEFAC members at national level to assist their respective members in reaching higher levels of sustainability in accordance with the ambitions in the Charter. Within the Charter they acknowledge the differences in sustainable objectives defining feed sustainability as a path for continuous improvement and measuring meaningful progress, not forcing everyone to meet the same thresholds. The five ambitions are also linked to the relevant EU Green Deal objectives and the UN SDGs, thus showing how they contribute to overall global sustainability.

Asia, and in particular SE Asian countries, are large importers of animal feed ingredients, particularly protein. These countries typically produce crops for human consumption such as rice, and therefore the responsible sourcing of animal feed ingredients such as corn and soy is a key priority, to ensure deforestation targets in the producing companies are met, particularly in view of recent global crises impacting traditional trade flows. In addition, technology aimed at better utilisation of agricultural by-products in animal feed and alternative sources of protein; insect protein production is a good example of new technology and is increasing rapidly in Asia, not only providing a solution to food waste (used to feed the insect lava) but also producing a local source of animal feed protein on a relatively small area of land, thus contributing to sustainability objectives.


International trade of agricultural commodities has a key role to play in meeting the needs of today, without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs. International trade has a role to play in the sustainability of the planet by moving food and feed from areas of surplus production to areas of deficit in the interest of global food security. Whilst some may argue that long-distance transportation can be contributing to pollution, the counterargument it that the longevity of the planet is supported by growing the right crop in the right environment, with optimum use of water and other inputs. 

Gafta has worked with its members over the past two years to develop an exciting new platform which encourages and supports those engaged in the international trade of agricultural commodities to contribute to a sustainable future.

The Sustainability Pledge is an all-inclusive, accessible platform which encourages and supports Gafta members to contribute towards a sustainable future. It aims to raise awareness of sustainability among Gafta members and the wider industry and enables members to promote their commitment using the Sustainability Pledge logo.

The Sustainability Pledge aspires to create a community of members, sharing experiences and best practices to act together as an industry to drive positive change, while recognising that sustainability is individual to each member and there is no right or wrong way. An online Information Hub provides members with resources whether they are just starting out on their sustainability journey or looking for where to next make a positive impact within their business.

Members who sign up to the Sustainability Pledge are making a strong commitment and helps demonstrate we can act as an industry together pushing for positive change.

Gafta is an international trade association representing over 1900 member companies in 100 countries across the world who trade in agricultural commodities and animal feedstuffs. Gafta design and maintain the standard forms of contract on which it is estimated 80% of the world’s trade in grain is shipped. Gafta’s mission is to promote free trade and provides a range of services which facilitate the movement of bulk commodities and other produce around the world. Gafta members are working to nourish the world, protect the planet and enrich communities and Gafta acknowledges the key role business plays in advancing the UN SDGs. Gafta is a member of the International Agri Food Network , (IAFN-the private sector representation to the Rome based agencies), actively engaged in the negotiations at the FAO and UN and involved in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

More information can be found at 


Sarah Mann has been Technical Manager at Gafta for 6 and half years and during that time has managed the review, development and delivery of the Gafta Standards and the Gafta Approved Registers, as well as developing and launching the Sustainability Pledge. Sarah has a degree in Agriculture from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK and has extensive experience in UK agriculture and international grain trade, as well as international standards applicable to the food and feed industry.

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