Study urges farmers and consumers to consider alternatives to soya

The study authors stressed that using soya for livestockfeed and dairy-alternative beverages is more damaging to the environment thantraditional grass-fed cows and milk beverages.

UK livestock farmers could use more local alternatives tosoya meal and palm kernel meal without reducing productivity, according to thefindings of a new study from the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) and theUniversity of Nottingham.

This is said to be essential to reduce increasing demandand associated destruction of rainforest in the Amazon and South-East Asia. Butit is not just up to farmers, the researchers said, suggesting that vegans andothers who buy milk substitutes made from soya also have a part to play.According to the researchers, switching to milk from grass-grazed cows would bemore sustainable.

Global production of soya bean and palm oils has doubledover the last 20 years and consumption is still rising. Together, the two oilsaccount for 90 percent of global vegetable oil production and are used inprocessed foods, animal feed and non-food products (including paint, ink andcosmetics).

Livestock feed manufacturers favour the use of soya beanmeal over other high-protein feeds, with over a million tonnes used in UKlivestock feed annually, the study noted. Widespread availability, high leveland high quality of protein make soya bean meal attractive for use in pig,poultry and dairy cow rations, the researchers said. Palm kernel meal is predominantlyused in dairy cow rations, especially as a supplement to grazed pastures. Thispractice should, however, be reconsidered, they added, explaining that grasshas a relatively high protein content and adding palm kernel meal to the dietresults in excessive nitrogen excretion and pollution of both air and water.

The authors calculated that about 85 litres of milk isproduced in the UK for every kilo of soya bean meal consumed by dairy cows. Incontrast, no more than 7.5 litres of soya drink are produced from a kilo ofwhole soya beans. As a result, the study found that drinking milk from cows inthe UK uses 11 times less soya than consuming drinks made directly from soya.

Use of soya could still be cut further, the researcherssaid, if farmers used more alternative sources of protein and consumersactively sought milk produced from cows that graze grass.

Alternative protein sources for use in livestocknutrition noted in the study included:

·        Rapeseed meal

·        Distillers’ grains

·        pulse grains, including beans and peas

Trials at the University of Nottingham reportedlydemonstrated that these alternatives can be used successfully and can evenincrease productivity in dairy cattle and pigs.

SFT chief executive, Patrick Holden, said, “This is animportant study. It shows that livestock farmers could reduce their dependenceon imported protein, which is produced at such a high environmental cost, andrely more on home produced feed. But it also shows that drinking cows’ milkuses far less soya than drinks made from soya, because most of the milk comesfrom grass. This highlights the importance of grass, a crop ideally suited toour climate and the grazing animals that turn it into high quality foods we caneat”.