At AFIA, sustainability is more than just a three-dollar buzzword. Just like the rest of agriculture, we are faced with the immense challenge of feeding nearly 10 billion people by 2050 with a finite amount of natural resources. We know we will need more meat, milk and egg products to provide people with reliable sources of protein.
Joel G. NEWMAN - President and CEO of American Feed Industry Association (AFIA)
Today’s consumers demand products that are not only safe and reliable, but come from manufacturers that have made it their mission to operate sustainably. In fact, some public opinion surveys show that a large number of consumers are choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good, even if they are not completely sure they understand the meaning of “sustainability.”
In the world of agriculture, sustainability has been part of what we do from the very beginning. Farmers strive to grow more crops using less water, seeds and crop protection products and are looking for ways to minimize environmentally intensive practices that destroy the earth’s natural resources. Just as they know the weather is unpredictable and has the potential to devastate the season’s crop in one fell swoop, they recognize our natural resources are precious and finite and must be protected.
Similarly, ranchers and farmers looking to generate higher-quality meat, milk and egg products to meet the increased demand for food from a growing population know it starts with keeping animals happy and healthy. These dedicated individuals spend nearly every waking moment ensuring their animals’ needs are well taken care of, while balancing that with the need to conserve and protect the land, water and other natural resources, ensuring the farm is not only a good neighbor, but can continue to operate for generations to come.
America’s animal food manufacturing industry, which is at the critical intersection between both plant and animal agriculture, plays an important role in helping all of agriculture be more sustainable. The American Feed Industry Association (AFIA), which represents animal feed and pet food manufacturers as well as animal food ingredient manufacturers in the United States, defines sustainability as:
“the ability to provide a continuous, safe and nutritious feed 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 well-being of customers, their communities and the industry.”
Over 6,200 U.S. animal food manufacturing facilities carry out this mission each day as they support the healthy growth and development of more than 9.6 billion food-producing animals and 144 million dogs and cats in the country annually. They do this by taking farm-grown crops, ingredients and food coproducts and develop them into high-quality, safe animal food that provides for the animal’s nutritional needs. They also work with farmers and ranchers to ensure their animals are being fed the right amount of food at the right times in their lives, so they can be more efficient in keeping feed and production costs down and eliminating animal food waste.
Through the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER), AFIA’s public charity, the industry has also worked with the National Academy of Sciences to update its decades-old nutrient requirement standards for both poultry and beef cattle, reflecting the latest scientific literature in the health and wellness of these animals. These scientific standards ensure that each species receives the optimal daily diet for growth, development, reproduction and maintenance, and are used as the reference tool and benchmark for nutritionists working with feed mills to develop the right feed formulas for their customers depending on the animal species, available ingredients and regional variances in production practices.
The feed industry is also committed to lowering agriculture’s global footprint through waste reduction. To that end, the animal food manufacturing industry works with other industries, from bakeries to ethanol plants and more, to incorporate many coproducts, or products that are the result of other manufacturing processes, into animal feed and pet food. In fact, of the 236.3 million tons of feed produced in the United States in 2016, approximately 110 million tons—or roughly 46.7 percent—come from coproducts that have been diverted from landfills. Examples of this include partnerships with local brewers to use their leftover brewer’s yeast or with soybean producers to use soybean meal after extracting the oil used in salads and cooking.
Along with the agriculture industry as a whole, the animal food manufacturing industry is also committed to reducing its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The industry has been an integral partner in the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership, which released in 2016 a gold-standard model for organizations around the world to accurately measure the environmental impact of their livestock feed production processes. This model, the result of more than three years of hard work between AFIA, the European feed industry, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, is now the standard by which all livestock and poultry organizations, universities and other organizations can use to assess the emissions generated by species over their total lifecycles. Already, the model has concluded that the U.S. livestock and poultry sectors contribute less than 4.2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
As a next step, AFIA is also participating in the North American Global Feed LCA Institute (GFLI) project. This initiative is creating regional databases and a modeling tool to benchmark the environmental impact of feeding livestock and poultry production based on the scientifically robust life-cycle analysis (LCA) methodology for feed developed under LEAP. GFLI is providing the tools and data and is urging the feed industry to use a harmonized set of standard methods to monitor feed ingredient LCA, which will encourage and demonstrate continuous improvement throughout the feed industry. Inspired by the North American and European Union projects, China and Brazil, as well as the global aquaculture industry, have also pledged to develop their own regional databases.
Another way the industry works to conserve resources, preserve the environment and reduce costs is through energy management. AFIA produces guidance that helps feed manufacturing facilities develop benchmarks within their companies and offers suggestions for improvements, based on the findings, particularly with regard to reducing energy use in some of the more energy-intensive parts of production, such as boiler management. This has helped individual facilities reduce costs and eliminate inefficiencies, and also the industry as a whole.
Just as important as the animal food manufacturing industry’s work to enhance efficiency and productivity, reduce energy use, and protect and conserve natural resources, is the work the industry does to educate policymakers and businesses about current U.S. food production practices, helping them make more informed decisions, so as not to move forward with policies that inadvertently restrict choice in the marketplace or block the acceptance of new technology.
One example of IFEEDER’s work in this area is in the slow-growing chicken and cage-free egg debate. Many retailers, restaurants and food companies are facing consumer and activist pressure to move forward with these alternative production practices, which on the outset may seem like more sustainable production options. Along with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and the Food Marketing Institute Foundation, IFEEDER has launched a consumer survey project that will analyze the realities of these options—from the tradeoffs between animal welfare and productivity, the impacts these practices would have on environmental sustainability, and consumers’ willingness to pay more for such attributes. Results from this project will be invaluable to retailers looking to make decisions about where and how they source their meat, milk and egg products.
Finally, the industry works to be more sustainable in giving back to local communities. In 2017, AFIA members’ employees volunteered a collective 92,000 hours of their personal time to helping community service projects. AFIA member companies, including company-employee matches, also donated over $44 million to an expansive list of community causes. The members supported a number of charities involved in education, civil service, agriculture, health and collegiate grants/research, with 89 percent donating to hunger relief charities, 81 percent to education programs, and 82 percent to university research, grants and graduate schools. In total, AFIA members donated to more than 200 charities in 2017, including the American Heart Association, local agricultural and youth associations, the Boys & Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way and more.
At AFIA, sustainability is more than just a three-dollar buzzword. Just like the rest of agriculture, we are faced with the immense challenge of feeding nearly 10 billion people by 2050 with a finite amount of natural resources. We know we will need more meat, milk and egg products to provide people with reliable sources of protein and are working with other segments within agriculture in the United States and across the globe to assess all our operations—from farm to fork—because we know we can always do better. To us, sustainability is not just good for business; it’s at the root of everything we do.