Science Can Solve Sustainability Challenges
When it comes to buzzwords in agriculture, sustainability is right up there at the top of the list. As is the trend these days, many companies make sustainability commitments and hire sustainability officers, but at BRI, sustainability is just the way we do business. And we believe firmly that science is the bottom line to solving the world’s pressing sustainability challenges.
As we see it, there are three parts to sustainability: economic, environmental and human sustainability. You might have heard it described in terms of the triple bottom line – people, planet and profit. Economic sustainability is fundamental. What we produce must sustain a business profitably and enable it to scale. While economic sustainability is important to BRI as a company, it’s even more important for BRI to leverage our know-how and technology to help our customers and partners be more economically sustainable with their own businesses and operations.
Environmental or ecological sustainability is what gets a lot of headlines, and it’s the focus of many companies within and outside of agriculture. In our world, that means harnessing biological processes to convert simple sugars and ingredients into valuable products and doing so with a smaller impact on the environment.
And lastly, “human sustainability is as important to BRI as any other type of sustainability,” says BRI CEO Giles Shih. “At BRI we strive for a sustainable culture that treats people equitably and with a focus on diversity and inclusion. Our GRIT values – Growth, Respect, Integrity, and Teamwork are reinforced throughout the company. We believe sustainable human values are regenerative and create a strong culture that attracts more like-minded people.”
Enzymes and Probiotics
OK, so let’s drill down to how science drives sustainability through BRI’s products and technologies. There are several ways producers use enzymes in their feeding program to improve economic sustainability. One of the cost factors producers consider when feeding their animals is their input, such as raw materials and ingredients. For example, by using enzymes such as proteases to improve the digestibility of protein ingredient in the feed, producers are able to save on feed costs without compromising performance. And as long as the cost of the enzymes is lower than the feed inputs, producers immediately improve their economic sustainability.
“The feed conversion ratio measures the efficiency of the animal to convert raw ingredients into protein,” Shih says. “Animals aren’t converting 100 percent of the feed ingredients into meat, eggs or dairy. There is going to be waste because ingredients aren’t digested well or fully utilized. If you can improve the feed efficiently even slightly on a consistent basis, you can improve economic sustainability. Probiotics work in a similar way, but the equation is about more animal health. Using probiotics can lower the mortality rate and improve gut health, as well as support the overall health of the animal. More survivability and lower mortality equal a better ROI.”
Of course, using enzymes not only improves the economic bottom line, but also has a positive impact on the environment. Enzymes improve digestibility and allow more ingredients to be absorbed from feed while excreting less ammonia and nitrogen into the environment. In addition, if using enzymes such as protease enables producers to use less soybean meal, then more acres of soybeans can be converted to other beneficial uses, such as crops for regenerative agriculture.
Another aspect of sustainability is the animal health industry’s trend of moving away from the use of antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs). Poultry and swine producers have relied on antibiotics to maintain the health of the animal because they were cheap, plentiful and easy. But exposure to the low dose of antibiotics is causing antibiotic resistance, and because a large percentage of animal antibiotics are also used in human health, the tools to combat human disease are less potent.
“Enzymes and probiotics do what AGPs do but in a different way,” says Nasser Odetallah, BRI Vice President of Sales. “Mannans in feed cause high viscosity, which means the material doesn’t move quickly through the digestive tract. That allows the harmful microorganisms in the tract to grow and causes digestive problems. Enzymes degrade antinutritional factors; feed is digested more smoothly; and AGPs are no longer needed. There’s more than one pathway to a healthy bird.”
As a result of more awareness, the industry has responded to consumer concerns and demands by using antibiotics in a more targeted way. The U.S. restricts the use of antibiotics, and Europe has already banned their use outside of treating sick animals. But producers need a replacement to supplement and maintain animal performance and health. Prebiotics and probiotics provide a stable gut flora that digests feed better. Better gut health is better animal health, and better animal health means fewer antibiotic interventions are needed. Combining enzymes and probiotics can reduce antibiotic use to produce more sustainably.
“Sustainability is easy to talk about but hard to solve for,” Shih says. “We’re using science to address the industry’s biggest challenges in a sustainable way. When you have healthier animals, profitability is assured. Each small action individuals and companies make come together to have a big impact on the industry and the world. It’s what the animal health industry has been doing and will continue to do. With the increasing demands on our limited natural resources, we can’t continue to do things the way we’ve always done them, but at the same time, thanks to science, we have more tools than ever before to find new and better ways of producing protein.”