It’s easy to look at the burgeoning plant protein industry and imagine it competes with those who produce animal-based proteins like meat and milk. But the truth is often more complex.
“We are not enemies – we need both,” says Christian Delporte, an animal nutritionist who helps Roquette create and sell coproducts. In the case of NUTRALYS® pea protein, that means taking the parts of the pea that aren’t as suitable for human consumption and developing animal feeds from them instead.
Coproducts mean we are able to use 100% of the peas grown for NUTRALYS® ingredients. That efficiency creates a virtuous circle with a sustainable and zero waste process for the NUTRALYS® side and a nutritious opportunity for farmers.
“The first driver is economic,” Delporte says. “But it’s also sustainable.”
Delporte helped Roquette uncover this potential in the early 2000s – but the development of our new facility in Manitoba, Canada, brought new needs and new challenges. Here’s how farmers are combining both plant-based and animal-based business opportunities there today.
A new twist on an old story
“Humans have always known that some plant-based foods are perfect for human nutrition, while others are more suitable for animals,” Delporte says. “So we’ve always used some byproduct to raise animals.”
But feeding leftovers to pigs is one thing – the equation changed when companies began processing vegetables at scale.
To create NUTRALYS® ingredients, we separate the different constituents in the pea, mainly using simple processes such as washing, drying, grinding, and sieving. One reason, Delporte says, is to remove a type of carbohydrate called oligosaccharides present in the seeds of peas. These can be difficult to digest – as anyone who’s ever eaten a meal of only pea soup can probably attest.
“They create flatulence in humans,” Delporte says. “Protein from peas is easy to digest; what’s difficult are oligosaccharides.”
Research showed that swine and cattle aren’t as sensitive to oligosaccharides as humans are – so we developed a coproduct we call Pea Cream. At Roquette’s first pea protein facility in France, area animal farms have bought and used Pea Cream, a liquid animal feed, with great success for more than 15 years.
But that was France. Building a second pea protein facility in Canada meant a new climate – and new needs and expectations from area farmers. To maintain our zero-waste approach, new innovations would be necessary.
“A real pioneer spirit”
The new facility in Manitoba, Canada, will more than double NUTRALYS® availability. That means it will produce a lot more Pea Cream, too.
Farmers who feed Pea Cream to their animals get a “double benefit,” Delporte says: They save on animal feed, which doesn’t need to be grown or imported. And they free up land previously used to grow or store this feed so they can use it to grow cash crops – like peas for Roquette – instead.
As Delporte visited Manitoba farmers, though, he learned that this would take investment on their part: Using liquid feed for pigs and cattle was already common practice in France, where farmers were used to feeding animals with liquid byproduct from local cheesemakers. That’s not typical in Canada.
That meant the farmers he was meeting with were often not equipped to store liquid animal feed; they would need to invest in new storage to use the product for their cattle. Because of Canada’s cold winter climate, this new liquid storage would need to be indoors or underground to guard against freezing.
Financially, the benefits were worth it – but would farmers think so too?
“What I found was that farmers in Manitoba have a real pioneer spirit,” Delporte says. “They asked a lot of questions, but most of the big farms have decided to invest.”
We are investing, too, by adding a dryer to our new facility so that some Pea Cream can be delivered dry rather than in its liquid form. All these efforts help the new plant meet our goal: 0% food waste.
“The cost of Pea Cream will be on average lower for these farmers,” Delporte says. “This is an alternative — or complement — to grains like corn or barley, or to genetic soybean protein that must be imported.” That’s a financial win for farmers – and with less shipping and more efficient use of natural resources, it’s a win for sustainability as well.
Ultimately, it’s all about making better food with better practices – a value Delporte says is best served when we think of animals and plants as complementary, not competitive, industries.
“In the end, the Pea Cream that animals eat will be turned to milk or meat, which is perfect for humans to eat,” he says. “I love explaining to meat farmers that we are not enemies. We need one another. In the end, the purpose is to make good food.”
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