What if you could have your steak and eat it, too?
While animal farming accounts for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, animal proteins are still an important part of the diet for billions of people. Animal feed accounts for 50 to 80% of environmental emissions of farmed seafood, meat, milk and eggs.
Advances in the Animal Nutrition and Health industry are taking these environmental concerns seriously, and are lowering its carbon footprint to make meat a more sustainable source of protein for concerned consumers.
Animal nutrition should not be underestimated—it plays a leading role in the global food industry, contributing to poverty reduction, food security and agricultural development. Livestock contributes 40% of the global value of agricultural output and supports the livelihoods, and food and nutrition security of almost 1.3 billion people.
Focused on the future
A new focus on sustainability is transforming the industry, fueled by consumers and producers alike; a recent Nielsen poll showed more than three quarters of US consumers list a sustainable lifestyle as important to them. This is widely represented by consumer demand for vegetarian or vegan alternative proteins that are less taxing to the environment in terms of production. However, a growing segment of the population believes eliminating animal consumption is not the answer. Many consumers continue to eat meat and strongly desire a return to all natural, ancestral diets—the result of a direct backlash to the decades-long creep of processed and ultra-processed foods into the standard human and animal diets.
Unfortunately, in many ways, these two priorities are at odds. But today, a range of corporates and startups are working to find solutions—innovating products that enhance animals’ performance, health and welfare, while reducing the environmental impact of animal farming.
One such company is dsm-firmenich, whose innovative solutions such as SustellTM, an intelligent farm-data-driven sustainability service, and Bovaer, a methane-busting feed-additive, are making great strides in reducing green-house gas emissions in the animal farming value chain.
“When it comes to the Animal Nutrition and Health space, due to our history in high value feed ingredients, we always keep our eyes open for transformational ingredients or additives that can significantly improve health, growth and wellbeing of animals,” says Eduardo Alberto, VP of Innovation, dsm-firmenich Animal Health and Nutrition. “Beyond ingredients, we are also extremely interested in precision livestock services, where we see technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, sophisticated IoT and sensors uncovering new data and novel insights.”
A startup tackling the issue of sustainability in the same methane-additive space with a new twist is SeaStock. The Australian firm’s purpose is to create global marine science solutions to produce and extract compounds derived from seaweed and algae. It has developed a novel land-based use of hydroponics to farm algae and a proprietary method to extract their natural compounds and serve them in small dosages to livestock. Researchers have found that when Asparagopsis seaweed is added to cattle feed it significantly reduces the methane produced in animals’ stomachs by more than 90%, says the company.
“Our product can help companies that take a strong position on reducing emissions,” says Tom Puddy, Co-Founder and Managing Director, SeaStock. “As it’s carbon-free, it allows companies to report the lower emissions exposure that is needed to classify dairy products as low-emission.”
For its efforts, SeaStock was recently recognized with the LDC Climate Resilience Prize, an award of CHF 100k from the Louis Dreyfus Company, in addition to CHF 30k Gold Prize from MassChallenge Switzerland.
“Winning the award has given us instant validation that we’ve been critiqued by large companies and now have global recognition,” says Puddy. “Our business model is moving the needle on climate change making existing industry more efficient.”
By working with MassChallenge Switzerland, SeaStock is now focusing their efforts in going from a pilot plant built this year to doing a feasibility study and now scaling up commercial production.
Puddy says: “In 2024, we’ll begin work on a large scale commercial plant to be built in Australia, which will serve as an easily replicable, blueprint model to build around the world.”
Established corporates such as dsm-firmenich and Bühler, as well as (and sometimes in partnership with) dozens of startups, are working on alternative sources of protein. They put in a lot of effort to sustainably fill the impending protein gap caused by population growth and other demographic changes, with new technologies, for instance cultivated meats and alternative proteins produced by precision-fermentation.
In yet another approach, startup Manna Insect is trying to disrupt this space in a new way – with insect proteins. With their high levels of fatty and amino acids, the nutritional content of Black Soldier Flies (BSF) has made them a great candidate for feed ingredient for ruminants like cows, sheep and goats. BSF can also be used to substitute soybean and fish meal, which are more taxing on the environment.
“They can contribute to a circular economy model as insects can be fed on organic waste, such as food leftovers and waste from agriculture, to produce feed for pets, fish, and livestock,” says Andreas Baumann, Head of Market Segment Insect Technology, Bühler. “The residues from insect farming, or frass, can in turn be used as a fertilizer, contributing to the zero-waste approach.”
Manna Insect is a Finnish startup that enables organic waste conversion into animal feed and fertilizer locally, anywhere. This fast track solution for commercial and scalable insect farming (including BSF) requires only a shipping container and opens up insect farming to new, small-scale producers.
“Manna Insect solves the food production challenge by empowering insect farmers around the world to become professionals and convert biowaste into commercial animal feed and fertilizer for local animal growers and farmers,” says Ykä Marjenen, Director and Co-Founder, Manna Insect. “Not only does this enable local people to create a livelihood, but also sustainably converts biowaste back to value and helps countries to minimize soy and fish meal dependency. ”
A challenge with the insect industry is that it is still optimizing its production costs. Inexpensive, scalable solutions like Manna Insect tackle this challenge head on.
“We are unique in insect industry as our solutions are solar powered and developed for emerging markets with minimal infra requirements, and are cost-efficient with locally sourced equipment and materials,” says Marjenen. “Additionally, we provide digital tools to manage the process and improve learning.”
Other ways of advancing the industry rely on scientific progress.
“Advances in insect genetics are key for achieving this. The benefit of genetics is already demonstrated in traditional agriculture,” says Baumann. “The overall solution will result in a high yield of superior products while ensuring an efficient use of raw materials, land, water, and energy. This makes the investment in insect production more attractive as it gives owners a crucial competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
What a corporation brings to the table
Supporting startups in Human and Animal Nutrition and Health as well as, Taste, Texture and Health is paramount for a corporation like dsm-firmenich. dsm-firmenich Venturing, the company’s venture capital arm, reviews thousands of startups a year for potential partnerships, in which they can also provide startup funding, coaching and support for those that share their purpose of “bringing progress to life”.
According to Pieter Wolters, Managing Director of dsm-firmenich Venturing, global R&D and manufacturing capabilities, spanning early-stage discovery to analytics and data sciences, as well as regulatory and IP expertise are critical in supporting startup development. These collaborations not only fuel innovation but also contribute to collective progress in different domains, including the Animal Nutrition and Health industry.
Wolters emphasizes that dsm-firmenich Venturing actively seeks out and invests in innovative Animal Nutrition startups. Dsm-Venturing has invested in dozens of startups in recent years, some of which came through MassChallenge Switzerland. In 2022 they invested in Sun Genomics, a graduate of the Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge, and the collaboration between the two companies remains strong and vibrant to this day.
While securing funding is an important aspect of partnering with incumbents in the Animal Nutrition space, there are other, equally compelling reasons to consider such collaborations.
“Scaling up animal nutrition technologies is not always easy due to strict regulations on animal feed production and the specialized knowledge required.” says Alberto, from dsm-firmenich.
This is where the invaluable expertise of experienced corporate partners comes into play. Their deep knowledge of the industry can provide startups with direct access to insights and knowledge that would otherwise require extensive research and countless meetings. This access can expedite the development and market introduction of innovative solutions.
Corporates dsm-firmenich and Bühler, as well as startups SeaStock and Manna Insect, are all taking slightly different approaches to the same issue of sustainability. Whether it’s through methane reduction or alternative proteins, companies large and small are all committed to navigating the challenging animal feed industry and fast-tracking cost-effective, sustainable solutions. Thanks to the unique global ecosystem created by MassChallenge Switzerland,, these parties have an innovative space in which to join forces.
About the Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge
In addition to its Early-Stage Accelerator, MassChallenge Switzerland operates a Challenge program that pairs later-stage startups with corporate partners in the food industry—the Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge. Startups have a unique role in introducing disruptive ideas, while corporations play a crucial role in scaling these ideas and quickly delivering benefits to society. MassChallenge believes that startups and corporations can collectively contribute to reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions and addressing the challenges of feeding the projected global population of 9.8 billion by 2050.
Applications are open for the Sustainable Food Solutions Challenge, until December 20. Apply here.