Decoupling Livestock from Land Use through Industrial Feed Production Pathways

Environ. Sci. Technol., 2018, 52 (13), pp 7351–7359
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b00216

One of the main challenges for the 21st century is to balance the increasing demand for high-quality proteins while mitigating environmental impacts. In particular, cropland-based production of protein-rich animal feed for livestock rearing results in large-scale agricultural land-expansion, nitrogen pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Here we propose and analyze the long-term potential of alternative animal feed supply routes based on industrial production of microbial proteins (MP). Our analysis reveals that by 2050, MP can replace, depending on socio-economic development and MP production pathways, between 10–19% of conventional crop-based animal feed protein demand. As a result, global cropland area, global nitrogen losses from croplands and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions can be decreased by 6% (0–13%), 8% (−3–8%), and 7% (−6–9%), respectively. Interestingly, the technology to industrially produce MP at competitive costs is directly accessible for implementation and has the potential to cause a major structural change in the agro-food system.