Centre for Agricultural Strategy

CAS Report 19
Replacing soya in livestock feeds with UK-grown protein crops: Prospects and implications

CAS Report 19Driven by market forces, policy reform and technology change, UK livestock production has become increasingly intensive over the last 20 years. A declining number of livestock farms rear fewer, more productive animals, which require more nutrient dense feeds, containing a higher proportion of high quality protein. The livestock feeds manufacturing industry, especially since the 1994 ban on use of meat and bone-meal in livestock feeds, has been reliant on vegetable protein sources to supply this growing protein requirement. However, as UK agriculture has been unable to meet all of the demand from feeds manufacturers for vegetable protein, imported soya bean meal has largely filled the gap. UK Imports of soya products in 2011/12 amounted to 1.83 million tonnes, implying that around 900,000 hectares of land overseas, primarily in South America, is used in support of intensive livestock production in the UK.

Environmental groups, both in the UK and elsewhere, have been calling for changes to Government policies to encourage greater supply of domestically-produced alternatives to soya meal, as a way of reducing reliance on a product which, they believe, is produced at an unacceptable environmental cost, through clearance of rainforest and tillage of traditional grasslands. Since the 2008/09 world food and feed commodity price shocks, many others, including the UK Government, have begun looking at ways of reducing reliance on imported soya meal as a protein supplement in livestock feeds, as a means to increasing security of feeds supply.

Unfortunately, there is currently no consensus on what policies would best achieve this outcome, or even on whether the outcome is achievable, or desirable. Hampering the debate is a lack of empirical data on key issues, such as: the amount of soya is it technically feasible to replace in livestock feeds; the availability of alternative protein sources; the suitability of these alternatives for production in the UK; and so on. This study was designed to provide answers to just such questions.

This study was undertaken by the Centre for Agricultural Strategy of the University of Reading, partially supported by a grant from Friends of the Earth. Whilst the authors are grateful for this support, the opinions expressed here are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor. The research was carried out in 2011/12 and is based on a variety of research methodologies, including literature review, stakeholder consultation, analysis of published datasets, and use of modelling, including the modelling of new livestock rations and the analysis of the land use consequences of changed demand for feedstock crops. This in-depth study has a particular advantage over many of its predecessors, in that key data on the potential to replace soya meal in livestock diets has come direct from the commercial feeds manufacturing sector itself. While the study does not attempt to explore the environmental implications of soya exclusion from livestock feeds, i.e. it has a strictly economic focus, it does provide the raw material for such an analysis.

The publication of this report comes at a time of intense debate on the role of soya in livestock feeds, driven by increasing feedstock prices, the growing dominance of GM soya, concerns over security of feeds supply and negotiations on the future direction of the CAP, including policies supporting domestic protein production. It is hoped that this report will reduce some of the uncertainty in these debates.

If you would like to purchase a copy of the report (£15.50 incl. P & P) you can download an order form here: CAS Report 19

For further information, contact us at:

Centre for Agricultural Strategy
School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
University of Reading
Earley Gate
Reading, RG6 6AR

Tel (0118) 378 8152
Email: casagri@reading.ac.uk

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