Cattle and fish can be fed more agricultural by-products, providing food for people – ScienceDaily

While millions around the world are at risk of starvation or malnutrition, the production of feed for livestock and fish hampers the limited natural resources that can be used to produce food for people. New research from Aalto University, published in nature foods, shows how adapting to feeding livestock and fish can maintain production while providing more food for people. These relatively simple changes would greatly increase the global food supply, saving calories for up to 13% more people without requiring any increased use of natural resources or major dietary changes.

Currently, about a third of cereal crop production is used as animal feed, and about a quarter of the fish caught are not used to feed people. Matti Cuomo, associate professor of global water and food issues at Aalto, led a team researching the potential for use of crop residues and food by-products in livestock production and aquaculture, freeing up human-friendly materials to feed people.

This was the first time anyone had combined food and forage flows in such detail globally, from both terrestrial and aquatic systems, and merging them together. This allows us to understand how much food by-products and food waste is actually used, which was the first step to identifying the untapped potential, Cuomo explains.

The team analyzed the flow of nutrients and feed, as well as by-products and waste, through the global food production system. Then they identified ways to divert these flows for a better outcome. For example, farmed livestock and fish can be fed food by-products, such as sugar beets or citrus pulp, fish and livestock by-products or even crop residues, instead of materials usable for human use.

With these changes, up to 10-26% of total grain production and 17 million tons of fish (~11% of current seafood supply) could be redirected from animal feed to human use. Depending on the exact scenario, gains in the food supply would be 6-13% in terms of calorie content and 9-15% in terms of protein content. “This may not sound like much, but this is food for about a billion people,” says Aalto’s Velma Sandstrom, first author of the study.

These findings align well with previous work from the Kummu Group on reducing food loss throughout the supply chain, from production, transportation and storage to consumer waste. In that study, we showed that reducing food loss and waste by half would increase food supply by about 12%. Combined with using by-products as feed, that would be about a quarter of the extra food intake, he says.

Some changes, such as feeding crop residues to livestock, may lead to a decrease in livestock productivity, but the researchers took that into account in their analysis. Another challenge is that the edible food currently used in livestock production and aquaculture is different from the food people are accustomed to. For example, different types of corn are used in the feed industries and some of the grains are of lower quality, while the fish used in the production of fishmeal tend to be small bony fish that are not currently popular with consumers.

However, overcoming these obstacles can lead to significant gains. Achieving these benefits requires some adjustments in supply chains. For example, we will need to reorganize the diet so that industries and producers with by-products can find the livestock and aquaculture producers they need. And some byproducts will need to be processed before they can be used as feed, says Sandstrom.

I don’t think there is any serious problem with doing that. What we are proposing is already implemented on a certain scale and in some areas, so it should not be developed from the beginning. We just need to modify the current system and increase the scale of those practices,” Cuomo concludes.

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Materials Introduction of Aalto University. Note: Content can be modified according to style and length.

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