Farm animals play an important role in transforming more than 85% of human-inditible ingredients into animal protein to provide dense nutrients for humans. Diets rich in agro-industrial by-products can affect the growth and characteristics of the meat, such as the hygienic, sanitary, nutritional, and sensory characteristics of meat. The legal basis for animal welfare is Directive 98/58/EC of 1998, which guarantees animals the so-called “five freedoms”,
- free from hunger and thirst,
- free from discomfort,
- free from pain and disease,
- to express natural behavior,
- free from fear and stress.
Due to strict feeding regulations dated back in 1989, the EU banned meat products treated with growth-promoting hormones, which in order to increase their body weight quicker. European cattle are therefore fed with natural fodder without additives to accelerate their growth. The law reflects and benefits largely on Grain-fed beef cattles.
There are two main feeding choices in grain-fed beef cattle breeding: fractionated feeding and unifeed feeding. The daily ration fed to a beef cattle may vary according to breed, age, sex and weight.
In the case of unifeed feeding, also known as ‘single meal’ and ‘one-plate’ feeding, the animal is fed both the fibrous component and the concentrated component at the same time, so that at the same time it takes in all the nutrients necessary to meet its needs. This is a key idea in modern feed techniques is thorough mixing. The forage, grains, protein supplements, minerals and vitamins have to be mixed so well that a cow or other animal has very little chance of picking out what looks tasty. The animal thus takes on all the components necessary both for its production needs and to keep the rumen fully functional. Whereas in the case of fractionated feeding, the fodder, the fibrous component is fed separately from the concentrated component. The feeding ratio is calculated by adding the dry matter contributed by the feeds known as concentrates – maize mash, compound feeds, core, maize meal, barley, soya, cotton, sunflower, wet by-products, etc.
Highest quality cereals such as barley, oats, wheat, corn and oil seeds are common components. Also free of antibiotics and growth factors (hormones). However, besides cereals, the replacement of cereals also stands out for its positive environmental improvement and benefits. A circular economy with human-inedible biomass is a strategic method to reduce food–feed competition, mitigate the environmental impact of livestock, and reduce production costs.
Production of European beef is known for environmentally-friendly practice. In 2020, the European Union adopted the European Green Deal strategy – a program aimed to achieve EU climate neutrality in 2050. The Green Deal sets out specific goals and actions to achieve them. In agriculture, the following goals are set: reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers; reduce water consumption in technological processes; reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a side effect of agricultural production and increase the volume of organic production in the meantime. To enhance the diversification of fodder crops means biodiversity increase, which is part of the Green Deal. The greater number of plant species cultivated means a larger diversified animal feed base, especially the grass-fed ones.
Photo credits: ©PROVACUNO/Organización Interprofesional Agroalimentaria de la Carne de Vacuno