ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF FEEDING THE WORLD AND HOW IT CHANGED MY PERSPECTIVE
In my last article, I shared my experiences on cultural differences. For sure, culture is a major part of private life, whereas it also plays a big role within companies. While I worked at Evonik’s Animal Nutrition department in Kennesaw, I perceived their underlying values and ideas almost as a culture. Today, I’d like to tell you more about how this kind of an organizational culture led to a change in my perspective on our food industry.
To begin with, I would like to explain three overall drivers in our food industry to you: Firstly, there is a rapidly growing world population combined to an increase in available income, especially in developing regions. As a consequence, more animal protein such as meat, fish, or eggs is required. Secondly, we have limitations to the resources on our planet. This leads to a rising importance in resource efficiency, establishing alternative methods in food production, and reducing the ecological footprint. As a third point, consumers have more concerns about ethical aspects like health, sustainability, and safety linked to the consumption of animal protein. Given the higher interest in such topics, consumers question the production processes in our food industry more and more. These three major developments lead to a question displaying the overall challenge of feeding the world:
What if we could supply high quality and healthy food safely and sustainably to all people on earth already today?
Optimizing the way we feed animals plays a huge role in answering this question. Evonik evolved concepts to adapt animal diets so that they exactly fit their nutritional requirements during a certain period of growth. This way, it is ensured that neither overfeeding nor underfeeding takes place which would cause negative effects on the animals’ health or simply waste of resources. To sum it up, raising efficiency in the feeding process enables us to provide the necessary amounts of affordable food in a more sustainable manner.
To make this a little clearer, let’s take a look at the example of chickens grown in the U.S. An American chicken’s diet consists of many different ingredients of which soy and corn are major ones. Simply described, they provide energy to the chicken. A logical consequence would now be to think that the more soy and corn our chicken would get, the better it would grow, right? But that is exactly what is not the case. Other feed ingredients such as additional amino acids and minerals are necessary to let chickens digest their feed properly. As well, the concentration of single feed ingredients plays a major role. Hence, it really depends on the mixture of nutrients given to the animals. Our chicken could eat all the soy and corn in the world - if it lacks a certain amino acid, it will not be able to digest the nutrients given to it optimally. So, analysing the birds’ nutritional needs and supplementing what they naturally lack is essential and much more efficient than simply feeding more of what they would be fed normally. All the raw materials that are not needed can this way be used otherwise and do not need to be wasted in the end.
What fascinates me about this story is the thought, that what is perceived as “natural” in society might not actually be the best way to handle things. Since I started working in Evonik’s Animal Nutrition department, I realized that the way animals were naturally fed hundreds of years ago might not be sustainable anymore today, although it seems reasonable to want to stick with it. Our ever-growing world population nowadays requires much more animal protein than earlier. Additionally, nutritional requirements of chickens and other animals might have changed over many years, so what if we still try to apply a feeding concept that may have become inappropriate over time?
I for sure did not expect to spend most of my time in the office in Kennesaw working on what exactly chickens eat and why or why not these ingredients might have a good impact on the birds as well as the environment! Yet, it made me learn a lot about why certain things in our nutrition industry developed the way they did and what consequences this could bring in future. Such changes in perspective teach you to become more open-minded and also more curious about why things are the way they are - maybe we should ask the question “What if…?” a little more often.
On the students@Evonik blog students working at Evonik share their experiences about life in the company.