Food, Feed or Fuel

Food, Feed or Fuel?

It is a frequent topic of debate: whether crops are best used for food (for humans), feed (for animals), or for fuel (biomass for energy production). There is no clear answer, as it always depends on the perspective one takes. On this page we outline a number of perspectives.

Perspective: Ethics

Moerman’s ladder is a frequently used model in the ‘feed or fuel’ debate. This ladder examines from an ethical perspective what the best way is to turn ‘residual streams’ (e.g. food waste and co-products) into value.

The most desirable route is to use co-products for human consumption. If this is not feasible, then animal feed is the next best option (since livestock turns the ‘residual streams’ into food for humans).

Is this is not feasible, then the focus shifts to technical applications or the production of energy. In sum, from an ethical viewpoint co-products are better used for animal feed than as biomass for energy production.

Perspective: land use

Co-products used as animal feed do not compete with food production.

  • Crops are not grown specifically to serve as animal feed. The crops serve the production of foodstuffs and biofuels.
  • The amount of land use for co-products serving as animal feed is therefore zero*. Food concentrates, on the other hand, imply a higher land use. Some raw materials are grown specifically to be used for concentrates, while the land could (often) be used to grow crops for human consumption instead.

* Brewers grains are an exception. International calculation rules stipulate that 1% of the land use related to the growth of crops and beer brewing should be attributed to brewers grains as animal feed.

Perspective: the climate

CO2 emissions contribute to climate change. This makes it worthwhile to determine which application of co-products contributes most significantly to countering climate change. Would it be by using co-products as animal feed, or as biomass for energy production? To answer the question requires understanding the amount of ‘avoided CO2eq emissions’.

From a climate perspective it makes sense to use co-products as animal feed for cows and pigs instead of as biomass for energy production. We illustrate this through two examples:  brewers grains and potato peel. The more clouds you see, the more CO2 emission is avoided (‘prevented’).

Animal feed is more ‘climate efficient’ than biomass

Brewers grains

From a climate perspective, it is desirable to use brewers grains as animal feed, since the avoided CO2eq emissions are higher than when it is used as biomass for fermentation.

Animal feed is more climate efficient

Potato peel

From a climate perspective, it is desirable to use potato peel as animal feed, since the avoided CO2eq emissions are higher than when it is used as biomass for fermentation. The avoided emissions when used as feed for cows are lower than when used for pigs. This difference is due to the rumen fermentation among cows, which releases the greenhouse gas methane.

Calculation of avoided emissions

The table offers a short explanation of how the avoided emissions are calculated.

Perspective: Duynie Feed practice

Duynie Feed seeks to fulfil livestock farmers’ need for co-products with the volume of co-products available at the suppliers. This is a challenge, which in practice requires a permanent search for the most sensible application of a co-product. Duynie Feed seeks to always use a co-product for animal feed. Whether this is possible depends on numerous factors. To name a few:

  • Relation with livestock farmers: delivering the most suitable products so that the farmer always has sufficient feed at his disposal.
  • Relation with suppliers: always making sure to collect co-products according to pre-arranged schedules.
  • Specifications: does the co-product meet the stringent quality demands for animal feed.
  • Are the livestock farmers who need a certain co-product based at an acceptable distance.

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