Innovating to feed the future

With the global population continuing to grow it is vital to plan ahead to produce the amount of food required, while also ensuring sustainability remains key


Today, our food production systems are under immense pressure. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, last year, close to 200 million people in over 50 countries experienced acute food insecurity at crisis levels, or worse, caused mainly by economic shocks, extreme weather and conflict.

The war in Ukraine and the lingering impact of COVID-19 on economies around the world are exacerbating inequities in wealth and resources and adding to pressures on global food production. At the same time, wealthy nations need to recognise that food is much more than a mere commodity but an essential building block of our human culture and communities.

Against this backdrop, the world faces an urgent challenge to ensure we can produce enough good-quality food for a global population that’s predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050 – and do it sustainably. We will need to produce 70 percent more food than we do today – a momentous challenge. It will require a fundamental shift in how we think about food consumption and production, as individuals, as communities, as nations and as a global population.

Nutreco has an important role to play, as a research-driven, global leader in animal nutrition. We are passionate about our purpose of ‘Feeding the Future’ by helping customers produce more protein with less negative impact to the environment. To find new and better ways to do this, we invest an average of €34m each year in research and development. We have 65 scientists working across 12 research units, collaborating with over 200 research institutions worldwide. In addition, our NuFrontiers division invests in breakthrough innovation and our recently launched Nutreco Exploration unit (NutEx) explores novel ideas in phytogenics, biotechnologies and physical chemistry and its first innovative products are already in production.

The courage to innovate
We believe we can help farmers sustainably improve productivity by utilising technology and sharing expertise on new farming techniques, but also by exploring genuinely new science that unlocks novel nutritional solutions. Our teams are focused on finding novel and potentially disruptive solutions, while, at the same time, building on our existing capabilities and businesses.

For example, while we remain fully committed to supporting animal farmers, we know that to feed a growing population, our industry must maximise all sources of food protein. These include alternative proteins, which can be a great supplement to animal protein. In our view, it’s more a question of ‘and/and’ than ‘either/or.’

We have responded to this need by committing to long-term investments and partnerships to produce alternative proteins that help meet the growing demand for high-quality food protein and accommodate consumers’ increasingly varied diets. We have invested in plant-based proteins, cultured proteins and fungal fermentation.

Scientific discovery
Another challenge facing our ability to feed the future is the fact that raw material availability and sustainability concerns are driving our industry to source more animal feed ingredients that come from nature but fall outside of an animal’s typical diet, sometimes triggering new physiological challenges. It is crucial that we invest in scientific discovery to find new ways to manage challenges like this that face our entire food system.

We see a golden opportunity to further harness the tech-accelerated ‘big bang’ in biological sciences of the last 15 years

In particular, we want to unleash the potential of two important and complementary areas: phytotechnology and biotechnology. We see a golden opportunity to further harness the tech-accelerated ‘big bang’ in biological sciences of the last 15 years, which has already had a significant impact on the animal nutrition industry. Over the last two decades, phytotechnologies have been successfully exploited for their antimicrobial properties. But, at Nutreco, we are expanding our research to push the boundaries in exploring under-studied possibilities around what medicinal plants can deliver for enhanced animal nutrition.

Recent scientific progress has given us a better understanding of the mechanisms underpinning old, unresolved issues facing farm animals. It has redefined the role of feed and facilitated the creation of specific solutions that can improve production and welfare. Scientific discovery will be an essential part of how we approach innovation going forward, and we believe it can pave the way for a new and transformative approach to the complex issue of food production.

We know there is no single solution to resolving the long-term problems of hunger and food insecurity. It’s a global issue requiring urgent, coordinated action from stakeholders across the food chain and across national boundaries – private industry, governments, NGOs, and trade bodies to name a few. And the stakes are high – ensuring that we have enough nutritious food to feed our growing population in the years and generations to come.