As a boy growing up on his family’s livestock farm in Denmark, a young Hans Stein enjoyed feeding the pigs. Today, he’s still doing it, the only difference is that the stakes are a lot higher.
As a professor at the University of Illinois and a DSM Nutritional Sciences Award winner, Dr Stein has been working to not only boost the protein available to humans by feeding pigs better; but to bridge this protein gap in a sustainable way.
“To produce more animal protein for humans we need to help pigs become more efficient at digesting and retaining nutrients,” he explains. “Until now, too many nutrients are excreted and effectively wasted.”
The scientific community has already been successful in helping pigs increase digestion of certain minerals like phosphorous. But boosting a pig’s ability to use energy and nutrients from high fiber ingredients has proved far trickier.
Until Hans looked East for inspiration…
China consumes around 50% of the world’s pork – and a large proportion of the world’s rice. What if the natural bi-product of rice production – known as rice bran and inedible to humans – could be used to feed pigs more effectively?
“There were lots of experiments, plenty of down moments and at times progress was slow,” he explains. But eventually Hans and his team found a solution – a fiber-degrading enzyme that gets added to the rice bran before being fed to the pigs.
It’s a huge potential step in bridging the protein gap and hopefully the first of many. “If we approach this challenge in a smart way I truly believe we can double global protein production in the next 35 years,” says Hans.
If population estimates are even remotely accurate, we won’t have a choice.