8 July 2019 – Over recent years, there’s been a surge of interest in eating less meat, particularly in Europe and the US. The reasons vary but generally include animal welfare, healthy eating and environmental concerns. Many food companies are responding by launching new plant-based product lines. Despite this trend, animal protein consumption is predicted to keep on rising in the next few decades, albeit more slowly.

While the future for the animal nutrition sector is difficult to predict, major disruption is inevitable. With climate change, biodiversity loss, resource pressures, etc. there’s a fragility in the food and feed system that demands urgent attention. What’s clear is that the animal nutrition industry has had and will continue to have a key role in supporting a healthier, more sustainable food system in the years to come.

In this latest instalment of the Feedinfo 20th Anniversary series projecting what our industry may look like in 2039, we asked several of the leading companies in the feed probiotics market what their thoughts are with regard to 1: optimising animal diets, while 2: improving the sustainability of existing feedstocks, and 3: adapting to the inevitable scaling-up of novel feed ingredients – with a view to further understand how the use of probiotics will feature as key components of sustainable animal diets in twenty years’ time.

Joining us in the discussion were (listed alphabetically, by company name): Chr. Hansen (Henrik Joerck Nielsen, Senior Vice President, Head of Animal Health), DSM (Sebastian Marten, VP Enzymes & Eubiotics, Animal Nutrition & Health), DuPont (Dawn Overby, Global Segment Manager Animal Health), Evonik (Dr. Stefan Eils, Director Product Management, Gut Health Solutions), Kemin (Susanne Kirwan, Product Manager), Lallemand Animal Nutrition (Laurent Dussert, Global Category Manager) and Novus International (Scott Hine, Vice President of products & solutions and Chief Innovation Officer)

[Feedinfo News Service] We anticipate a gradual reduction in demand for conventional feed in the long-term as animal feeding regimes will be further optimised while at the same time there will be a shift in human diets towards “less and better, healthier” animal protein. What must be done by the probiotic sector to help address this challenge?

[Henrik Joerck Nielsen, Chr. Hansen] While there will be substantial regional differences in the speed and timing of this trend to happen, the sector will need to embrace it. This is not a trend for everyone indeed, but for the more affluent, health conscious and often urban consumers. As feed composition changes, so does the animal gut microbiome composition and the probiotic technology must follow suit and demonstrate the effect of probiotics under these conditions while also developing new strains. At the same time, food safety will only increase in relevance as conventional antibiotics and hygiene agents are pulled out. Probiotics can play an important role in an integrated management approach to these risks. On the gut health side, we anticipate that the developments in human health probiotics and in the “bugs as drugs” approach will have a spill-over effect on the animal side.

[Sebastian Marten, DSM] Overall we expect that the global demand for protein, and thereof as well animal protein, will continuously grow over the foreseeable future. The innovation leaders in animal nutrition and health will largely benefit from that, no matter if the conventional feed consumption will grow with the same pace or not. Probiotics have a proven track record in increasing animal productivity and feed efficiency and I think the science is still at early stage in this area. However, we strongly believe in the strengths of complete solutions for animal farmers. There is no single ‘silver bullet’ to optimise the animal production system, both from an economical and sustainability perspective. We must decide together with our customers what the best solution is in a particular situation and how to provide these solutions in the most effective way to the target animal. Probiotics definitely play a role in that equation.

[Dawn Overby, DuPont] We believe activity will focus on a number of important areas related to improved safety, advances in technology and ever greater efficiency. For example, the industry will address increasing concerns around the risks associated with feed as a vector for performance-limiting pathogens by inhibiting bacterial load at farm level. These measures, together with good husbandry practices and biosecurity, will help to reduce overall risks. Further investment will also, in theory, enable the industry to not only push digestibility to the maximum in terms of feed conversion, but also optimise the delivery and quality of nutrition. Increased knowledge of the mode of action of specific probiotic strains will allow us to be much more selective; leading to a targeted – rather than a broad spectrum – approach to feed strategies. We will then be able to incorporate more targeted probiotics into the precision feeding, allowing the animal to focus its energy on producing meat. Enzymes or other microorganisms will also be used to optimise the microbiota in the gut through prebiotic production. Greater automation will facilitate the addition of diverse types of probiotics and feed additives; where they are part of a dedicated program tailored to the specific needs of the animals, replacing the traditional three phase starter, grower, finisher diets. Beyond safety concerns, exciting potential for the use of probiotics in terms of meat quality, flavour and colour will also be explored.

[Dr. Stefan Eils, Evonik] The consumer demand for greater transparency in the food chain, better animal welfare and healthier products has been very obvious in the past few years, and we think it will further evolve. We must emphasise probiotics’ potential to help meet these demands. Probiotics are non-antimicrobial feed ingredients that contribute to the animal’s gut health. This is key for its overall immunological wellbeing and fitness. Probiotics are important ingredients in the global move to replace antimicrobial growth promoters and the uncontrolled use of antibiotics. They can therefore significantly contribute to transparently-controlled healthy protein products.

[Susanne Kirwan, Kemin] The probiotic sector is ideally suited to help in this transition. Probiotics can only in part help with optimising feed efficiency, this is more the domain of absorption enhancers and enzymes for example. Sustainable livestock production is more than just efficiency of converting plants to animal protein however. Healthier proteins will certainly include products with minimal use of antibiotics. Antimicrobial resistance is a very serious concern worldwide, so pressure increases everywhere on antibiotic use in livestock. Specific probiotic strains have shown the potential to reduce specific pathogens already, this application will certainly become more important. New strains coming into the sector will almost certainly be focused on specific health or welfare challenges. The historic “competitive exclusion” approach with single strain probiotics will be replaced with these new strains. While the overall market for livestock feeds might reduce in the long term, the market for probiotics is far from its peak. Fattening pigs and layer hens for example are barely touched by probiotics today, this will certainly change.

[Laurent Dussert, Lallemand] We should contribute towards improving feed conversion and to a better use of raw material, for example with precision feeding with ad hoc individual diets when this becomes possible (e.g. use of robots for individual feeding). It is also key to control pathogens in a sustainable way through promoting digestive microbiota balance. As probiotic producers we must continue to document the effects of our strains and screen for new strains or design combination of strains to attain these objectives. One example brought by increased knowledge of our probiotic strains is the potential to develop diet modelling that takes into account the biologic effect of the probiotic on digestive enhancement to develop nutritional sub-models.

[Scott Hine, Novus] There is much work to be done in the probiotic sector to address challenges. In recent years, the investment level for microbiome research has increase dramatically, and so has the regulatory approval timelines for these novel ingredients. Even as the technological concepts have become more complex, the research investments into probiotics will continue to “pay-off” as investors and inventors respond to the industry’s ever-evolving challenges. The animal agriculture industry has always been innovative and keeping production costs low is important, so we can imagine that the development and launch of new, cost-effective feed ingredients is all but assured. Having said that, some of the novel ingredients will likely be developed using more progressive techniques than in the past – CRISPR, gene editing, etc. are all economically viable tools today. Consumers will want to be assured of the safety and the efficacy of these new technologies, and rightly so. In my opinion, the feed additive industry should be regularly reviewing with producers’ options that can help manage production costs, reduce the impact of animal agriculture on our environment, and improve the quality of food produced and animal welfare. Innovative probiotics are just one way to help further the already great strides that have been made to advance commercial operations to meet the needs of customers and consumers.

[Feedinfo News Service] Can you imagine a scenario whereby all feed used in 2039 will be produced within regenerative agricultural systems, increasing feed-to-food conversion efficiency, and where supply chains will be able to boast improved transparency and traceability criteria?

[Henrik Joerck Nielsen, Chr. Hansen] Traceability is surely a trend that will transform the food chain and new technology in e.g. RFID, digitisation, blockchain technology, etc. will help move us there. However, there will be a logistical cost to “compartmentalising commodities” and the question is if consumers are ready to pay for it. There will be a market, but it will not be for everyone. It would probably also require more alignment of international food, animal production and feed production standards which are very diverse around the world today. As for regenerative agricultural farming/systems, there will be a demand for this, and the practice will increase; most probably with higher profitability for the farmers/producers that switch as it will allow them to differentiate towards the consumer. However, we doubt that it will be for everyone as it will drive up costs and, as we see it, undeniably drive up climate impact as less will be produced with more. This leaves the consumer with a dilemma of choice: either products that are good for biodiversity or products that have a lower climate/CO2 impact. In either case, probiotics can play a beneficial role as they support efficiency, gut health and diversity. We will need to adapt to two key markets: sustainable conventional to produce better with less and organic/regenerative/alternatives to meet consumer demand.

[Sebastian Marten, DSM] We need to be mindful that we are operating in a world of finite resources and the principle of a circular economy drives our entire value chain. The agricultural system is challenged, and thus we need to continuously challenge ourselves to improve the footprint of food production. As you indicate, this includes the increased use of local feedstock, the reduction of the emission levels of animal production and a significant step up of productivity. Producing ‘more from less’ is key. The key leverage comes from a best-in-class team combining technology platforms to the most powerful solutions. This team must include forward thinking customers and other experts and we strongly believe in a broad innovation network to make this happen.

[Dawn Overby, DuPont] A great deal of work still needs to be done before this scenario can become a reality, but we do believe that the use of regenerative agriculture systems will increase significantly in the future. Realising its full potential will require a combination of regulatory and industry initiatives, as well as consumer involvement, but much can already be learned from organic production methods which provide a useful model. Feed additives could have a key role to play in helping to reduce manure emissions; where precision feeding is used to convert waste into energy, thereby enabling the full life cycle. Automation may also enable the exact amount of feed additives to be added into feed in order to increase its food conversion efficiency. We believe adoption of blockchain technology will also drive greater supply chain transparency which is increasingly being demanded by concerned consumers.

[Dr. Stefan Eils, Evonik] We definitely expect further gains in efficiency in agricultural production, including the production of animal proteins. With improving detection systems, IoT solutions and the management of big data, complete traceability will be possible along the production chain. This will enable the industry to offer transparency to the consumers so that they can make educated choices about the quality of food they want.

[Susanne Kirwan, Kemin] Technologically this is certainly possible, and from reasons from feed to food hygiene over concerns regarding residues or mycotoxins, very desirable as well. In the future new technologies like DNA markers can offer cost effective tracers for tons of product, which was never possible in the past. This can help trace feed raw materials with the same accuracy as animals today. Currently there are some trends going the opposite direction, organic production as an example is often portrayed as a very sustainable solution. Feed conversion ratios in organic systems are, for a range of reasons typically lower than in comparable conventional production. This leads both to higher excretion of nitrogen and phosphorus and increased land use per kg of protein produced. It makes sense from a production point of view but is not desired by much of Europe due to the welfare implications. I am optimistic that by 2039 production worldwide will come to an equilibrium where traceability is standard, and the production systems are all optimised towards being regenerative. Feed to food ratio might well increase, rather than drop in this scenario. Ruminants, but also layers and sows can use a range of agricultural by-products and convert them to high quality proteins and fertilizers for agriculture. In a regenerative system this ability might be more valuable than a fully optimised feed conversion ratio.

[Laurent Dussert, Lallemand] In our area we believe that microbes are everywhere and that, to quote Pasteur, there would be no life without them. In terrestrial or aquatic farming environments there is no frontier for microbes, from the field to the feed, the gut, the water, the soil, the building surfaces… there are microbial ecosystems everywhere. So, well beyond probiotics, which by definition act in the gut, selected microorganisms can contribute to this scenario. Such examples are the use of selected microorganisms to equilibrate microbial ecosystems in farm environment, manure, or aquaculture ponds. Indeed, the understanding of microbial ecosystems is even more crucial whereby the animal is immersed in its environment, with a direct influence of both internal and external microbial ecosystem on the animal. One example of such scenario are the existing recirculating aquaculture systems were everything is recycled, with a minimum impact on the environment.

[Scott Hine, Novus] Today, animal producers all over the world are using regenerative agriculture systems and have been for years. The use of these systems is often based on the fact that most of today’s food is being produced in the most environmentally-efficient, cost-effective regions in the world. As agriculture continues the trend of globalisation and diversification to meet the needs of the growing local population, this trend will only continue to grow. Strides have been made in the last two decades regarding efficiency and the ability to take a feedstuff and convert it to high quality protein. As we look further into the future, it is imperative that the feed-to-food conversion efficiency continue to increase through better genetics, the use of novel feed supplements and revised animal husbandry practices. With the level of technology available to consumers around the world, there is no doubt that traceability and transparency will be front and centre for the coming years. With the use of new concepts like blockchain technology, food suppliers are already creating a traceable, transparent view for consumers. With notable early adopters, the blockchain technologies being implemented are focused on product origin to optimise food safety and traceability. In the next 10 years, the linkage for details such as production practices, feed sources, or materials used in production will be looped into that transparency piece. As mobile technology becomes more pervasive and “data platforms” more unified, we will see transparency and traceability become a requirement for market participation by local and global players. There may even be some bold nations or economies that determine that legislation of regenerative agriculture is the “right thing to do” for the preservation of our world.

[Feedinfo News Service] We can also expect a scaling-up of novel feed ingredients/additives production, products that deliver on the promise of minimal land and water-use and minimal greenhouse gas emissions. In your view, which are the novel ingredients and additives that are kind of in their infancy stages today but will grow in importance by 2039? And is the feed grade probiotic market poised to benefit? How will it adapt?

[Henrik Joerck Nielsen, Chr. Hansen] Ingredients and additives that are ‘natural’ and can provide either a health benefit, an ecological benefit or a sustainability benefit will do well in such an environment. That said, without regulation, household economics will remain an important decision factor that will drive conventional production and the need for classic productivity improvement. Of course, ingredients that can do it all will do well in any scenario. In our view, probiotics do live up to all those requirements, but we will need to make them better and better to remain relevant. Highly qualified research platforms and performing market access will be necessary to accelerate the innovation reach to the market. Speed of innovation will be critical. At the same time, we don’t expect the regulatory framework to become less complex, at best it would be better harmonised. Beyond additives, a lot of progress will be made in genetics. For decades breeding programs have produced animals that are fit for conventional production. They can of course be bred for sustainable production with smaller yield penalty versus what we see today.

[Sebastian Marten, DSM] First of all we must say that the full positive impact of the existing technologies in the market is not fully understood and documented yet. For example, proteases have a strong role in improving protein digestion and hence directly reduce the nitrogen emission of animal production. We just need to spend more time as an industry measuring and optimising what we have. And looking for breakthrough innovation to step up. So far, we are focusing on overlooked areas, like removing dead cells debris (peptidoglycans) from the gut to unlock a hidden potential or really understanding the functionality of the microbiome. Probiotics will definitely benefit from these opportunities, but need to be integrated into a broader system.

[Dawn Overby, DuPont] We are really only just getting started in terms of exploring the full range of possibilities presented by novel feed ingredients such as insects, algae and microbial proteins. Related research into some novel microorganisms and their potential benefits for animal feed is still very much in the early stages. Lignin, for example, is a plant-based source of energy that currently only termites are able to digest but, in the future, we may be able to unlock its potential and make it available to other species. In terms of probiotics, research has only scratched the surface in terms of our understanding, so the development of new insights, techniques and technologies will enable us to bring more targeted and effective probiotics to the market. This will be boosted by more advanced product delivery systems, which will be critical to releasing the full potential of less “robust” but highly efficacious organisms. Using co-products from industry streams will play an increasingly important role, with additives, microbes and enzymes used to extract high value bio-actives. At the same time, our understanding of nutribiosis, the interaction between nutrition, microbiome and gut & immune function, will continue to evolve. We fully expect that by 2039 we will have added another pillar; the brain/hormone which will help understand what makes the feed attractive.

[Dr. Stefan Eils, Evonik] In order to support livestock production with a significantly improved ecological impact, a science-based approach will be even more important in the future for successful players. Evonik has been engaged in the reduction of nitrogen emissions from farming for years through the low protein diet concept. Reduced protein input means lower emissions, while still maintaining production performance. Probiotics with a defined mode of action that improve digestibility of the nutrients and contribute to animal health will further grow in importance. We are currently exploring synergistic effects of low protein diets and specific probiotic products in our portfolio.

[Susanne Kirwan, Kemin] There are certainly several additives, such as immune modulators for example, which will gain more importance in the future. Many concepts already exist or are being developed, the reason that they are not in the market is that at current prices land use or greenhouse gas emissions are of no monetary concern for producers. How quickly a concept can become a standard in all feed can easily be seen in the historic uptake of phytases. Which exact additives will be in the market is of course bordering on sooth saying, it is more of an art than certainty. Probiotics will certainly be there, but only those with specific modes of action other than competitive exclusion. They will also very likely be narrower in focus, unlike today where the very same strain is commonly used for humans, chickens and pigs and even ruminants. With few or no antibiotics available anymore for treating diseases in livestock prevention of disease will become paramount in diets. Therefore, very specific immune modulators will almost certainly be used. But there might be completely new targets, the new EU regulations will allow products to be registered for welfare. So maybe anti-stress or welfare enhancing products will become widely used in the coming years.

[Laurent Dussert, Lallemand] There are several ways to reduce waste: first to limit waste through better conversion, second to recycle or reuse waste (e.g. biogas production). Another tool is to be able to valorise non-food grade material, to avoid feed/food competition, such as fibre rich ingredients that cannot be fed to human. In this context probiotics with the ability to better digest fibre have a great potential. This can be achieved in two ways: either by producing enzymes that digest fibres, or by favouring the endogenous flora that are able to digest fibre.

[Scott Hine, Novus] Animal protein producers and consumers will likely have the most influence on the demands and needs that the industry must be prepared for. The need to closely manage our precious natural resources in the face of a growing global population and a 70% increase in protein consumption by 2050, is critical. And we must continue doing so to be able to provide an abundant, diverse, and relatively inexpensive supply of high-quality protein. As genetics change and evolve, today’s protein producers are constantly evolving their formulations to provide healthy, nutritious feed to livestock and poultry. Globally, we continue to see increased use of probiotics as well as other products such as enzymes, feed preservatives, organic trace minerals, organic acids, and essential oils to replace AGPs. These feed additives will continue to grow in use as they also help to reduce waste and offer producers more options to keep food affordable and safe. As noted earlier, probiotics will certainly be required to help support animals’ gut flora, especially as new/novel feed materials are incorporated into diets. As feed formulations and animal genetics evolve and as consumer preferences and needs evolve we will have a need for new and novel probiotics. For example, enzymes with a probiotic effect may be required to optimise new protein sources that are coming to market, like insect meal. Insect meal is at relative infancy in its use and we are just starting to understand how to optimise this protein source in animal diets. There will be many more examples like this on our way to 2039 and the probiotics industry is certain to benefit given consumer and other stakeholder trends.