The World Nutrition Forum prides itself in its “focus on the future, and not on products.” Sponsored and organised by dsm-firmenich, the event carries on the tradition, started by BIOMIN nearly 20 years ago, of inviting leading scholars and innovators in the animal nutrition community to talk about solutions to the challenges of feeding a hungry world sustainably.
Fresh off the most recent World Nutrition Forum, held earlier this month in Cancún, dsm-firmenich’s Ivo Lansbergen, President of Animal Nutrition & Health, joined Feedinfo to share some of the most exciting highlights.
[Feedinfo] Mr. Lansbergen, your keynote “making it possible, together” had sustainability at its heart. What are the most important messages on that theme that you would like to communicate here?
[Ivo Lansbergen] I often emphasize that sustainability is not a nice-to-have; it has become a must-have, and this will be even more true in the future. Stakeholders, including end consumers, are increasingly interested in the environmental footprint of animal protein, and this can now be reliably assessed at the farm level. Companies that can demonstrate genuine sustainability improvements will be best positioned to win over consumers and secure favorable access to capital, creating a race to the top in terms of sustainability.
So if you haven’t yet started looking at sustainability—get started. And if you have started—it’s time to accelerate. The good news is that nine times out of ten, the more sustainable option is more efficient or opens new market opportunities that support profitability.
Transforming our food systems requires us all to reach across the value chain, work together and embrace innovation and new ways of working. Tackling the industry’s biggest challenges is not easy, but it is necessary. I firmly believe that radical change is possible, given the latest technological developments with regards to precision nutrition and alternative feed ingredients. For example, I am convinced that due to the shortage of land, single cell proteins – produced close to where they are consumed and typically having a very low carbon, land and water footprint – will start playing an important role. Single cell proteins offer animal protein producers an alternative to classical protein sources, not only reducing the footprint of animal farming in general but also making a positive contribution to food and feed security in a world full of volatility and uncertainty. With the correct combination of technology, production process, raw material inputs and renewable energy use, we believe that it will be possible to produce a net zero protein source that is well suited to animal nutrition that will help the industry achieve its climate commitments.
[Feedinfo] The World Nutrition Forum had breakout streams to allow for deep dives by species. Can you talk about the key learnings to come out of each of those streams?
[Ivo Lansbergen] The poultry breakout session addressed several key interrelated issues facing producers across the globe in various ways. Ensuring food safety and bird health while addressing the rise of antimicrobial resistance has underscored the need for alternatives to antibiotics. In the face of high feed costs, powerful new tools such as precision nutrition and microbiome management can lower feed costs or improve efficiency. Continuing advances in poultry genetics and breeding to produce high quality protein poultry meat and eggs must be matched by improved knowledge of birds’ nutritional requirements.
Increasing nutrient utilization – getting the most out of feed – has gained more importance and novel nutrition concepts including the use of alternative feedstuffs or low protein diets are showing promise in commercial settings, provided they are supported by a suitable set of feed enzymes. Reducing the environmental footprint of poultry production requires accurately measuring and improving bird performance and longevity – in line with the adage that you can only improve what gets measured. Finally, we’ve made considerable progress in utilizing biomarkers and big data techniques to create an early-warning system that identifies potential on-farm problems before they jeopardize bird health and performance.
In the swine industry, together with our customers and partners we are looking at performance, health status, environmental concerns and animal welfare as key issues that are all front of mind. The targets in these domains are highly ambitious. A constant question facing producers: how can we realize the full genetic potential of pigs? As genetics develop, the nutritional needs of modern animals are also changing, so we need to keep refreshing our knowledge and utilize a full set of tools to support health, welfare and growth. New disruptive approaches to measuring the activation of key physiological pathways and deciphering their contribution to animal performance and health outcomes are emerging via -omics technology.
For example, using transcriptomics combined with mapping of these expressed genes to pathways is an exciting new tool to help optimise nutrition strategies and solution development as well as identifying the limitations in commercial performance that may be hindering the realisation of full genetic potential.
Even with new technologies, the problems and solutions are not always straightforward. Take oxidative stress, for example, which is a multi-factorial problem with potential impacts on reproduction, health, performance and meat quality. Because it’s driven by multiple influences, a set of biomarkers is needed to understand what’s happening within the animals and would have considerable benefit for the industry. And sometimes innovation inspires new ways of thinking, as with the gut microbiome, which we should consider as an organ itself and focus on the metabolic outcomes of the organ as a whole, instead of individual microbial populations, in order to directly influence physiology and support better outcomes in the animal.
In the dairy space our discussions began with the need to optimize rumen fermentation and health in order for cows to produce milk efficiently and sustainably. From a nutrition standpoint it all starts with silage and feed quality. Evidence shows that we need to consider the impact of mycotoxins not just on the animal itself but also on the rumen microbiota which are the key driving force behind efficient feed utilisation. Effective mycotoxin mitigation strategies can contribute to improved animal health and welfare as well as performance.
There’s an emerging opportunity to use biomarkers as part of an early warning system that allow producers to address potential issues, such as subacute ruminal acidosis or lameness, before they become full-blown problems that can negatively impact on cow health and performance. This is especially important under periods of stress as experienced during transition cow management and several different dietary and feed additive mitigation strategies were discussed. Along those lines we expect to see digital solutions come to the forefront that help to improve animal health and performance, with accurate lifecycle assessment being key in ensuring we achieve reductions in the environmental footprint of dairy production. Data-based insights will become more important in the future as we strive to improve cow health, welfare and performance in a sustainable manner.
Within the beef stream at the World Nutrition Forum, the discussion focused on three pillars: feed optimization, animal health and sustainability. Against a backdrop of high feed costs and pressures to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint, it is clear that we must be very efficient in beef operations. Greater efficiency will lower the carbon emissions per kilo of meat.
Nowadays we have a full portfolio of performance solutions to support beef production and animal performance and health along with data-based services and software to help improve farm management and correctly interpret the data to set appropriate targets and choose the right interventions to improve profitability and sustainability. These new technologies also help to attract the next generation of farmers and bring new young talent to the industry.
[Ivo Lansbergen] While there’s a positive outlook for aquaculture industry growth, higher feed costs are here to stay, so it’s important to seek out productivity and efficiency gains. Formulation and nutritional tools including feed enzymes will play a key role in feed cost reduction. Faced with a future protein gap, the industry will need to embrace innovation and collaboration. We know that the high inclusion of plant-based ingredients introduces a higher risk of anti-nutritional factors such as mycotoxins, which cost the aqua industry anywhere between five and ten billion US dollars per year, so mitigation methods will be crucial to support industry profitability. The value chain expects environmental impact measurement and reduction. Accurate, reliable footprinting will become more widespread as aquaculture strives to become even more sustainable.
[Feedinfo] Beyond the breakout streams, there were also plenty of sessions talking about how new technology is unlocking improvements in animal nutrition and health with cross-species applications. Can you talk a bit about the work dsm-firmenich is involved in regarding the use of -omics technology to characterise different animals’ microbiomes, and how this can be of interest to food producers?
[Ivo Lansbergen] We use advanced biologic tools and -omics technologies to study the microbiomes of farm animals and their impact on important traits such as feed efficiency, health, and welfare to meet the demands of a growing global population. The term -omics covers a wide variety of technologies with many applications. I’ll use one branch of the field, metagenomics, to illustrate our scientific innovation.
Metagenomics enables the simultaneous sequencing of DNA from all cells in a microbial community, which can reveal the presence of novel microbial species and enzymes. Our researchers have applied metagenomics to the rumen microbiome and discovered nearly 5000 novel microbial genomes, including previously undiscovered species of bacteria and archaea. By characterizing these genomes in terms of structure and function, we have uncovered previously unknown links between the rumen microbiome and traits such as methane emissions and feed conversion efficiency.
We have also used metagenomic sequencing to study the chicken caecum and discovered hundreds of novel species of bacteria, mostly from unknown or novel species, that are common in chicken flocks across the EU. These genomes were enriched for the presence of carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes), which were correlated with breed and body weight, suggesting a relationship between the presence and abundance of specific enzymes and traits of interest to food producers.
[Feedinfo] Meanwhile, at the level of individual animals, dsm-firmenich also spoke about the use of machine learning and big data analysis to aggregate blood biomarkers with meta-data relevant to broiler production. Can you share some of the patterns or themes that have emerged from this work, and how these can be turned into actionable insights for broiler production (or for other species?)
[Ivo Lansbergen] VeraxTM is an early-warning system designed to help industry professionals make more informed decisions by uncovering previously hidden opportunities for productivity improvement and loss prevention. By applying it to large-scale customer operations, we have identified several patterns that can be turned into actionable insights for broiler production. For example, our team found that certain blood biomarkers are correlated with specific health conditions or nutritional deficiencies, including coccidiosis, necrotic enteritis, microscopic E. maxima, welfare, heat stress, immunity response, as well as calcium or phosphorus deficiencies. In some cases, we were able to predict the outbreak of coccidiosis by 8 days, allowing time to take the right measures and intervene in the nutritional regime. Additionally, we have found that certain nutritional interventions can have a positive impact on blood biomarkers and ultimately improve broiler performance.
While VeraxTM is currently deployed in the field to support broiler production, the platform has the potential to be adapted for use in other species as well, enabling data-driven decision-making to improve animal protein production efficiency, sustainability, welfare and profitability.
VeraxTM is part of our wider initiative in precision services, and we will continue to use digital tools and data analysis platforms to enable novel intelligence gathering and support our customers to improve profitability and sustainability.
In conclusion, I’m excited by how digital technologies will unleash the industry’s capabilities in never-before-seen ways – not just VeraxTM, but many different technologies. And I’m not alone in this. The participants at the World Nutrition Forum, themselves representing a cross-sectional swathe of industry experts in various fields from all the key agricultural markets, identified data as the most important transformative force they see today for the future.
Published in association with dsm-firmenich