Date: 04/07/2023

What is the path that lies ahead for the Animal Nutrition and Food Ingredients? How technological innovations are going to change the food industry? These are just a few questions Professor Dr. Leonardo Barcellos answered in this new edition of BRFi Talks. A veterinarian graduated by Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Barcellos has also a master degree in Zootechnics and a doctorate in Physiology. Since 2001, he has been working at Universidade Passo Fundo, teaching in fields such as Physiology, Animal Welfare and Aquaculture. He is also a consultant of the Brazilian Agriculture Ministry in material development and theoretical basis for fish welfare.

When you think about innovations of the Animal Nutrition market that contribute directly to productivity, is there a lack of research publicity, tests and innovations? How the sharing of information and innovations in ingredients can contribute to the industry?

This is a subject we have discussed not only in the animal nutrition, but as well as in other fields where the industry has an evolution level so great that the academics can’t seem to be able to follow their pace. It’s a different thing to what had happened before, where science was evolving faster than the industry. I see companies, not only in animal nutrition, owning technologies that even workers of the sector can’t explain. Therefore, in many cases, there is a lack of understanding - those who receive the technology don’t understand all the benefits it provides.

In many cases, the person appointed to sell or to present technologies to the market has little knowledge to do so, having a hard time trying to explain them. In this nutrition field, as an example, we have zootechnicians, farmers and veterinarians that are ahead in the knowledge, as they need to understand about complex physiology, how substances are absorbed or how technology changes animal microbiota and its many effects. To me, this is the matter: more and more, the industry has to be able to maintain some kind of corporate university.

We reached a level that we’re not only thinking about how these technologies can be used, but trying to figure out how to present it to workers. This is a major problem. A problem of qualification, as in the saying: “I’m able to train my technician, but is the market ready to understand it?”

Take BRFi, for example. They not only sell their products and the company concept, but also provide courses and communications for the market and consumers to help them understand more about their products. It’s imperative for us to evolve into something that goes beyond selling items: we need to teach about their importance and how to make the best out of them. If this doesn’t happen, technicians and workers won’t be able to use and draw on those technologies, creating a bottleneck we will all have to know how to transpose.

So, there is a need to bring industries, companies and academics together.

It’s not that it hadn’t been done before, but nowadays, we are at a point in which the technological, detail and product customization levels for clients became a challenge. It’s not enough to throw a party and explain the product. It has to be something special, thought precisely for that market or costumer. Technology will help that, because disseminating research is not an easy thing to do for universities, nor for the industries. Because of this, scientific journalism within companies is getting stronger.

We know productivity goes further than acting on nutritive diets. Today, producers also have to pay attention to the conditions where animals live. How can the favorable use of the environment influence in productivity and supply the species’ needs beyond nutrition?

There are some problems that precede nutrition. It’s not enough to apply a super specific nutrition if there are basic deficiencies before. In my field, it’s easy to understand: there is the problem of the quality of water, the genetics and many other things that aren’t solved by using a super and full of additives feed. Besides selling a new super ingredient, it’s important to say it’ll work if other matters have been solved in the first place. And that relates to a subject that keep coming back now and in the future: personalization.

And that’s because there are several kinds of problems that can be stealing the success of these nutrition innovations, leading the producer to think they don’t work. So, there’s a need to give attention to the environment and other two keywords that every company should be focusing on - which BRF already do -: traceability and animal welfare.

When you have a good environment and animal welfare, the result is great. Not to mention, it is also something that can be converted into added value, and usually isn’t. Animal welfare and environmental protection are fields that, even if they have 1% of investment, the industry has to expose, because it’s something society sees with good eyes, now and maybe even more in the future.

Demands for animal welfare in society are growing more and more. If the company and its ingredients, (BRF, for example) are associated with products, good practices and promotion of animal welfare, there is no doubt it will turn into money. And that’s the point: showing that the better the relationship between animals and a good cared environment, the less other slices of energy that animals have will need to be spent. And that’s why the first and still today’s meaning of animal welfare is: “how is the animal in its attempts to cope with its environment?”

Improvements in environment are the key to achieve the results aimed by the industry of a given product. Maybe, one of the main reasons that something isn’t working, is this: a product being used in a production chain with misalignments. And this imbalance will block the expected results of the products.

Sustainability is very much related to innovation. Do you believe that sustainable ingredients are the biggest key for the animal nutrition future?

I have no doubt about it. I won’t say it’s the only, but it’s one of the most important. In some situations, it reaches a point where you have to take a step back. This backtrack is needed if the production level can make it to 80, but with 70 it’s more environmentally sustainable. The sustainability and economical questions that have been discussed for the last 20 years are even more pertinent now.

For example, we see a lot of stuff about welfare and its conversion to added value. The presence of ingredients that maybe won’t make you reach the peak in production, but will guarantee a more friendly sustainable operation, will turn out to generate money. There will always be a market, a niche, for it.

It doesn’t help to use a feed that goes wasted on the environment. We have to search something tailored for each animal category, each stage of life, to make sure it’ll make the best out of the ingredient and that the nutrients won’t be disposed in the environment as a leftover, waste or residual. And, in my opinion, this is correlated with the benefits of hydrolysates and peptides.

I see that, facing so much technological evolution, and maybe tying up the four questions, the big future of these compounds is to provide a nutrition for great performance and an even more customized experience for different animal groups and life stages, and maybe, who knows, in the years to come, new models of production.

In summary, a more customized nutrition accordingly to production characteristics. And this is thinking only about animal nutrition. We can also predict that hydrolysates and peptides will, undoubtedly, be applied in human nutrition - something we are already seeing happen.

By looking at these innovations in formulations, what kind of impact do you see by using enzymatic hydrolysates and bioactive peptides?

I see the impact of a more therapeutic and customized nutrition. We will no longer use the whole hydrolysate. Soon, the goal will be to extract specific peptides from it, that can be used for specific functions.

We stopped using bagged feeds, changed to in bulk, and now we will have to take a step back and have several silos, because you need one for each animal life stage. Without doubt, the animal nutrition sector will have to adapt to offer technologies for producers, so they can evolve while paying attention to questions like the animals’ immune system and their preparation in each production stage.

The keyword will be the adjustment of nutrition to each kind of production chain and the steps within it. Then comes the question if the academics will be able to follow this, and I don’t know if there has been any development on this matter.

In a quick overview, the four questions are related, as there are a lot of things coming on. How to spread this is a bottleneck, a matter of knowing how to provide more and more animal welfare through the adjustments between animals and environments - the better the last, the higher the animal performance, thus helping avoid product underachievements. Sustainability concerns, once treated as something belonging to a niche, will soon lead everything. And, finally, the huge possibilities with the new - actually, maybe not so new - hydrolysates and peptides.