Back in May, our friends at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) hosted a webinar exploring ways to advance the sustainability of the palm oil industry in the livestock sector. 

The RSPO has been working for the better part of two decades to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil. To achieve this, they have developed a set of environmental and social criteria that companies must comply with to produce palm oil that can be certified as sustainable . 

These criteria were established to help minimise the negative impact of palm oil cultivation on the environment and communities in palm oil-producing regions. By choosing to source RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), companies show that they are taking concrete actions to benefit people and the planet. 

However, as the animal feed sector is not as consumer-facing as other industries, uptake appears to have been slower than in the food sector.

Why is palm oil a factor in animal feed in the first place? Well, because it is such a potent source of energy.

As many of you know, sustainable palm oil is a subject we are openly passionate about - we believe in the cause and are keen to keep these important conversations in the limelight. That is why we were thrilled that our very own Dr. Richard Kirkland, Global Technical Manager for Volac Wilmar Feed Ingredients (VWFI), was invited to speak and share his insights on the matter. 

Let's take a closer look at the key talking points from the webinar, and consider Richard’s contribution...

How widespread is palm oil use in animal feed?

Moderated by Inke Van Der Sluijs - Global Director, Market Transformation at RSPO - the afternoon session began with Judith Murdoch, Retained Associate at Efeca, who explored the UK’s sustainable palm oil initiative, demonstrating how widespread the use of palm oil is in animal feed. 

“The UK in 2019 imported 470 5000 (475k ?) tons of palm oil, of which 30% was not certified,” she explained. “We talked to the UK refiners to ask them if they're importing segregated or mass balance. You can see that overall the uptake of sustainable palm oil has been relatively static, but we did have quite a peak last year.”

In a bid to improve the uptake of sustainable palm oil, Judith advocated for a two-pronged approach: 

  • Improve messaging, understanding, and traceability throughout domestic supply chains
  • Work with country partners to improve the ways we demonstrate legality and sustainability - big factors in improving policy on the subject

Valuable food for thought: change needs to be driven domestically as well as internationally, and changes made by individuals all build towards the bigger picture.

Bringing more sustainable solutions to the US

Looking further afield, Barry Baetz, Director of Sales - Feed Division - Global Agri-Trade Corporation, followed to discuss work to bring more CSPO-based solutions to the US..

Speaking of the challenges his team has experienced stateside, he shared, “Overall, the market awareness of palm oil products comes to the forefront generally when there are issues that have impacted the consumer part of the supply chain or usage chain.

Echoing some of Judith’s remarks, he continued, “Market awareness has been limited because educating users and buyers to the supply chain has not really been occurring to any significant effect.”

He also went on to highlight the challenge of product demand versus the availability of certified palm derivatives, explaining some of the steps that the Global Agri-Trade Corporation is taking to redress this balance. 

The value of palm oil in dairy nutrition

Finally, Dr. Richard Kirkland took us through the intrinsic value of palm oil in dairy nutrition, summarising the nutritional building blocks of animal feed - with a particular focus on fatty acids, and the important part they play in achieving balanced ruminant diets. 

“When we look at dietary fats, we don't feed ‘fat’ per se, but we are actually interested in the fatty acids within a particular fat source.” Looking closer at some of the different fatty acids in ruminant feeds, he continued, “The primary ones we are interested in, due to the wealth of recent research data, are palmitic and oleic acids.”

He went on to compare the main sources of these key fatty acids, “Each individual vegetable oil source tends to predominate in one particular fatty acid. Rapeseed, for example, has a predominance of oleic acid, in soya it’s linoleic acid.” 

Comparing the fatty acid profiles of palm and other vegetable oil sources, he illustrated just how unique palm oil is. “What’s interesting about palm is that it’s the only oil that supplies high concentrations of palmitic acid, as well as a high oleic acid content.” 

“Palmitic and Oleic are the two primary fatty acids in milk fat and are in fact in quite similar proportions to what we find in palm fat. 

Dr Kirkland then went on to break down the science behind fatty acids in ruminant diets, before outlining some of the key benefits afforded by rumen-protected calcium salt fat sources manufactured from palm fatty acid distillate, including:

  • Increased dietary fat digestibility
  • Increased milk yield
  • Improved body condition
  • Improved fertility
  • Reduced methane production

If there was any doubt before about just how impactful this natural energy source is, then it should be crystal clear by now!

In summary

If you ever found yourself wondering why VWFI supplements such as Megalac are manufactured from palm-based derivatives at all, then this session provided the answer: they play a key role in helping meet the growing demands for livestock production around the world.

One part of the solution can be provided by feed fats, with the fatty acid profile and high energy density of palm oil proving particularly beneficial in the dairy sector for productivity gains. The raw potential of palm oil has never been in doubt - it’s the ethics that are the real issue, and that’s exactly why events and discussions like this are so important. 

We won’t compromise on the environment and animal welfare, which is why we are working to drive sustainable palm oil use in the industry. And, by improving the messaging and wider understanding of sustainable palm oil, we can collectively continue driving industries and consumers to make smart, informed choices for the benefit of the environment as well as our food systems.

Keen to learn more?

A very big thank you to the RSPO for hosting this webinar and inviting Richard along to participate. You can learn more about the RSPO and their work on their website. If you’re interested in learning more about Volac & Volac Wilmar’s sustainable palm oil policy and actions, we hosted an event of our own to discuss the subject last year

You can also view our Palm Oil Sustainability Policy here

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