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Denmark can grow all its own animal feed protein

Instead of importing large quantities of protein feedstuffs from other countries for food and feed, Denmark can produce enough of its own protein to cover its needs for animal feed and to supplement food requirements.

[Translate to English:] Tang kan både være en alternativ kilde til protein og bidrage til at fjerne og genanvende kvælstof og fosfor fra havmiljøet. Foto: Janne Hansen

Raw materials such as grass, mussels and mealworms can be the foundation for a sustainable domestic Danish production of protein for feed and food. All it requires is innovation. These thoughts prompted the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark to ask researchers from Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen to investigate the possibilities for new, Danish-produced protein sources for food and feed.  

Annually, Danes eat approximately 143,000 tons of protein and use about 1.5 million tons of soybean meal for feed, most of which is imported from Argentina and Brazil. At the same time, the global consumption of protein is rising; expectations are that the total global consumption of animal protein from 2007 to 2030 will increase by approximately 70 percent.  

Alternative protein sources can come into play

Denmark can potentially produce enough protein to cover its demands for animal feed, to supplement its own food protein demands and to export to other countries. This protein can come from Danish land, aquatic environments and industrial facilities. 

Which protein sources can Denmark produce, how can they be used, do they have export potential, and how do they affect the environment? Questions such as these have been elucidated by researchers in a report published by the University of Copenhagen. 

The report contains data sheets for a range of potential new protein sources for feed and food, including grass, fava beans, starfish, mussels, seaweed, insects, microalgae and bacteria. 

Danish protein for food and feed

The possible new proteins for animal feed are grouped by sources that can be grown on land (i.e. green biomass such as perennial grasses) or water (i.e. blue biomass such as starfish), and protein sources that are produced with the aid of microorganisms or insects on an industrial scale based on various residual projects (e.g. biorefined grass). 

With regard to potential new protein sources for food, the researchers looked at the possibilities of using seaweed as well as by-products from the production of potato starch, vegetable oil, and flour and from slaughterhouses. 

For each product there is a description of the rationale for considering the new protein source, how ripe the technology is, the production potential in Denmark, possible applications, export potential, anticipated climate and environmental effects, and barriers for possible implementation.   

Several advantages to domestic protein

There are several good reasons for using alternative, domestic protein sources for food and feed. Including marine protein sources and microalgae in animal feed makes it possible to provide essential minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and functional carbohydrates with a positive effect on the animals’ gut bacteria. Some of the crops, such as grass, could contribute to reducing leaching of nitrogen to the aquatic environment. 

On the global level, production of Danish protein can lead to less pressure on changing land use from nature to agriculture, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and easing the pressure on biodiversity. With regard to the industrial products and biorefining of grass, there will also be a sidestream of by-products that can be used for energy purposes, among other things. 

The report (in Danish) ”Kvantificering af forventede fremtidige proteinmarkeder og kortlægning af potentialer i forskellige nye proteinkilder” (Quantification of expected future protein markets and mapping of the potential of various new protein sources) was prepared in collaboration between Aarhus University and the University of Copenhagen at the request of the Ministry of Food and Environment of Denmark and can be downloaded here.

From Aarhus University there were contributions from the Department of Agroecology, Department of Animal Science, Department of Food Science, Department of Environmental Science and Department of Bioscience.

For more information please contact: Senior researcher John Hermansen, Department of Agroecology, e-mail: john.hermansen@agrsci.dk, telephone: +45 8715 8017, mobile: +45 2962 9538