Developing Sustainable Solutions through Research and Development

17th August 2020

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers had increasingly been seeking out sustainable products in many food categories including pet food. For many consumers, their experiences during the pandemic have increased their awareness of the impact of human behaviour and consumption on the environment.

Consequently, as we emerge out of the lockdown phases, the demand for a sustainable supply chain and products will grow.

At Devenish, we recognise that sustainability is of paramount importance to our business, our industry and mankind as it is calculated we must produce more food in the next 30 years than we have done in the past 10,000 to satisfy global demand. It is accepted that this food must be produced in a sustainable manner to protect the planet and resources for future generations.

Why the focus on sustainability?

Every year, Devenish invests significantly in research and development. Our R&D strategy is underpinned by delivering improvements in environmental, animal and human health. Over the last decade, there has been increasing focus on sustainable solutions to help reduce carbon emissions from farming. In turn, this helps mitigate the of impact of food production for both animals and humans alike.

In 2019, Devenish commenced a 4-year project in partnership with Wageningen University Research, University College Dublin, University of Gloucester, Bord Bia and EUFIC, assessing the impact of different grazing swards on soil, plant, animal, human and environmental health and maximising value throughout the supply chain.

This research is taking place on our livestock research farm in Co. Meath in Ireland and is designated as one of Wageningen's international Lighthouse farms. A lighthouse farm is defined as an existing, commercially viable farm that is "already in the year 2050" in terms of providing sustainably produced food and ecosystem services.

Devenish completed a world first on this farm, undertaking a whole farm-above-ground Lidar technology scan, assessing the farms capability to sequester carbon. Devenish has since developed a carbon balance sheet with the primary objective being to create carbon neutral beef and lamb production by 2025.

Animal proteins are a major component pet food. Consequently, if we can reduce the carbon effect of meat production, we can in turn reduce the environmental impact of pet food.

Further research areas

There are many ways in which a business can improve their sustainability credentials. In the pet food industry, production efficiencies to reduce energy consumption, water and air quality and treatment and pet food packaging are often considered. With the ongoing demand from consumers for high quality pet food whose ingredients may compete with human food ingredient supply chains and ancestral diets with high animal protein inclusions, it is important to monitor the pet food formulations themselves for their sustainability.

When reviewing formulations, consideration should be given to sustainable ingredient options Consider also nutrient supply - are nutrients being over supplied in the formulation and hence wasted and are there ingredients that can be included to improve nutrient utilization and have a positive impact on the pet?

Sustainable Ingredients

The benefits of dietary omega 3 fatty acids for both humans and companion animals are well established. These essential fatty acids are known to benefit brain function, heart and eye health as well as having anti-inflammatory properties. The three main omega-3 essential fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6). Whilst ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, the conversion is so poor that NRC publish levels for EPA and DHA for both cats and dogs. EPA and DHA Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) are primarily found in marine sources such as oily fish. Unfortunately, over recent years, as a result of dietary changes in farmed fish, the level of omega-3 fatty acids in these fish have started to decline.

To offer alternative effective sources of omega-3 PUFA's in the diet, Devenish alongside the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) embarked on a detailed scientific study to measure the impacts on human health of consuming chicken meat naturally enriched with omega-3 PUFA (via the chicken's feed). This resulted in the launch of the world's first poultry meat products with on pack claims of improved heart, brain and vision health.

Key to this research was the use of a sustainable source of omega-3 DHA from algae rather than fish. Devenish can now provide a sustainable source of omega-3 PUFA's from algae that is concentrated and highly bioavailable for use in many products including pet food.

Nutrient Efficiency

To preserve the resources we have and minimise waste, the importance of precision nutrition is key to improvements in sustainability whether that be for food or companion animal diets.

With this in mind, Devenish evaluates the use of ingredients that improve animal performance through improved health. Recent research has focused on developing the gut microbiome and improving gut health thereby improving nutrient utilisation, health and wellbeing and reducing inputs. Devenish studies using specific blends of encapsulated short and medium chained fatty acids have demonstrated a positive impact on the gut microbiome in the animal through favouring the development of lactic flora and suppression of enteropathogenic bacteria. The action of the encapsulated fats throughout the digestive tract and in the microbiota, improved nutrient utilisation and animal health, reduced waste and improved efficiency. In pets this blend of fats (UltraGuard- P) supports a healthy microbiome and reduces faecal output and odour.

As the focus on sustainability intensifies, our research and focus will continue to look at developing management practices, ingredients and formulations for the future that meet the nutritional requirements of our pets while meeting sustainable environmental objectives.

If your business is looking to increase its sustainability credentials, please contact the Devenish team to find out how our multi-species R&D programme can help you.

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