The Feed-a-Gene project
Feed-a-Gene aims to better adapt different components of monogastric livestock production systems (i.e., pigs, poultry and rabbits) to improve the overall efficiency and to reduce the environmental impact. This involves the development of new and alternative feed resources and feed technologies, the identification and selection of robust animals that are better adapted to fluctuating conditions, and the development of feeding techniques that allow optimizing the potential of the feed and the animal.
- Feed-a-Gene has been awarded a grant from the European Commission (Grant agreement no: 633531) under the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020.
- The estimated eligible costs of the action are € 9,933,795.00.
- The duration of the action will be 60 months as of 1st March 2015.
The project will:
- Develop new and alternative feeds and feed technologies to make better use of local feed resources, green biomass and by-products of the food and biofuel industry.
- Develop methods for the real-time characterization of the nutritional value of feeds to better use and adapt diets to animal requirements.
- Develop new traits of feed efficiency and robustness allowing identification of individual variability to select animals that are more adapted to changes in feed and environmental conditions.
- Develop biological models of livestock functioning to better understand and predict nutrient and energy utilization of animals along their productive trajectory.
- Develop new management systems for precision feeding and precision farming combining data and knowledge from the feed, the animal, and the environment using innovative monitoring systems, feeders, and decision support tools.
- Evaluate the overall sustainability of new management systems developed by the project.
- Demonstrate the innovative technologies developed by the project in collaboration with partners from the feed industry, breeding companies, equipment manufacturers, and farmers’ organisations to promote the practical implementation of project results.
- Disseminate new technologies that will increase animal production efficiency, whilst maintaining product quality and animal welfare and enhance EU food security to relevant stakeholders.
Animal production is constantly facing new challenges. Increasing productivity and efficiency have been key issues after the Second World War to ensure the food supply in Europe. Since then, other aspects have become important including animal health and welfare, product quality and security, environmental impact, and consumer and citizen expectations. In their report “Livestock’s long shadow” the FAO (2006) indicated that “The livestock sector is one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”. Despite this alarming message, the FAO also stated in their “World Livestock 2011 – Livestock in food security” report that “As it stands now, there are no technically or economically viable alternatives to intensive livestock production for providing the bulk of the food supply”. The competition between food, feed, and fuel encourages actors to look for new solutions to increase the efficiency and sustainability of livestock production systems. This creates a unique opportunity to implement changes in the livestock production chain.
The increase in world population combined with the increase in income will double the global demand for animal-derived products by 2050 (FAO, 2007), poultry and pork being major contributors to this increase. Poultry, rabbits and pigs are responsible for about 13% of N excretion and 18% of P excretion from livestock in Europe. In addition, monogastric production is highly concentrated, and major concentration of nitrate and phosphate in water are found in major monogastric livestock production areas (i.e., the North-West of France, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Po Valley in Italy, and the North-East of Spain).
Because of the diversity of animals in livestock systems, there is still a large potential to improve efficiency in livestock production systems by better adapting the nutrient supply to the requirements of the animal, either individually or as a group, and by a better and more specific selection of animals adapted to available feed sources. It has not been possible to address these issues until now because of lack of low-cost technologies that allow for the identification and real-time phenotyping of animals. Monitoring devices are now becoming affordable to allow precision livestock production, including precision feeding. The diversity among animals can also be used to breed more efficient and robust animals. Recently available high-throughput molecular technologies make it possible to pinpoint variability in traits from metabolites to gene sequence, providing an in-depth look at the biological mechanisms of nutrient utilisation by the animal and its gut microbiota, resulting in the development of tools for early and accurate selection. With these technologies, breeding schemes for monogastric livestock can be revisited to considerably enhance the selection efficiency. These technologies are essential tools to breed animals capable to use feed resources that are not or less in competition with other usages.
To further increase livestock production efficiency and sustainability, the EU has to rely to a greater extent on locally produced feed sources. This can be accomplished by unlocking the potential of existing feeds and identifying new and alternative feed sources. Because of the diversity in feed sources and in feed technologies, there is not a single solution to improve the utilisation of locally produced feeds and to attain protein self-sufficiency. An approach where different actors combine their expertise and skills is essential to ultimately attain this goal.
Feed-a-Gene will work on the main species used in monogastric livestock production (i.e., pigs, poultry, and rabbits) and will address the diversity of production types and production stages (i.e., growing pigs, gestating and lactating sows, broilers and laying hens), and in different production conditions (conventional, high welfare, and alternative (Mediterranean) production systems). In addition, different (aspects of) production systems and conditions will be considered (including the comparison of different breeds of pigs and poultry used for the production of conventional or specialty products) and a sustainability comparison of conventional and proposed production systems. Feed-a-Gene is composed of six Research and Innovation Work Packages (WPs) (each of them including the demonstration of the technologies developed). Common experiments will be set up in the different WPs to limit animal experimentation and to share experimental facilities among Feed-a-Gene partners. Feed-a-Gene will also re-use sample collections from past experiments.
The project will last five years. Technologies reaching TRL5 (Technology Readiness Level 5) during the course of the project will be demonstrated at an industrial scale to facilitate transfer to lead-users. The five year duration will allow making a deep assessment of the impact of engineering solutions proposed by the project on the overall food processing chain to give elements to stakeholders to facilitate their adoption.