Chicken, pigs and cattle munch away about half of the protein feed cultivated on global croplands.
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Today’s agricultural feed cultivation for cattle, pigs and chicken comes with tremendous impacts for the environment. Cultivating feed in industrial facilities instead of on croplands might help to alleviate the critical implications in the agricultural food supply chain. Protein-rich microbes, produced in large-scale industrial facilities, are likely to increasingly replace traditional crop-based feed.

Without drastic changes to the agro-food system, the rising food and animal feed demand that comes with the meat-based diets will lead to continuous deforestation, biodiversity loss, nutrient pollution, and climate-impacting emissions.

A new technology has emerged that might avoid these negative environmental impacts. Microbes can be cultivated with energy, nitrogen and carbon in industrial facilities to produce protein powders, which are then fed instead of soybeans to animals. Cultivating feed protein in labs instead of using croplands might be able to mitigate some environmental and climatic impacts of feed production.

These are in a nutshell the main findings of new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The authors of the study, an international scientific team, for the first time estimate the economic and environmental potential of feeding microbial protein to pigs, cattle and chicken on a global scale.

Small feed changes could have a substantial environmental impact

The study is based on computer simulations that assess the economic potential and environmental impacts of microbial protein production until the middle of the century.

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