Using no additional farmland, it is possible to use biotech to feed millions more people, and at the same time avoid millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. This is the main conclusion of a study presented at an event hosted by the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, the Danish Climate Consortium, and Novozymes, the leading biotechnology company, on December 16 in Copenhagen as part of the COP15 Climate Conference.
The study, presented by Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes, illustrates in practical terms the implications of a fresh vision for a “bio-based society,” in which renewable and recycled raw materials replace fossil fuels. This vision, presented by Michael Brockenhuus-Schack, Chairman of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council, is one that integrates agriculture and biotechnology to create more productive solutions that will be necessary to care for a growing population and address climate change.
Specifically, this new, bio-based society is one in which renewable raw materials from agriculture are used to produce not just food and feed, but also energy – biofuels and biogas – and even products such as chemicals and biomaterials (plastics, fibers). This scenario was described in detail by Jørgen E. Olesen, member of IPCC and Research Professor of Agroecology and Environment, Aarhus University (Denmark).
To illustrate the potential, Novozymes created a study to compare the productivity of current, conventional agricultural practices with what could be achieved by using integrated biotech solutions and processes. As a baseline, the study assumed one hectare of arable land cultivated with wheat used as feed for swine for meat production.
Biotech solutions considered in the study:
1. Use of a specific fungus, applied to the crop seeds before sowing, that enhances the uptake of natural phosphorus, resulting in increased crop yields per hectare.
2. Use of two enzymes, phytase and xylanase, in the swine feed to improve digestion and resulting in a higher productivity at the swine farm.
3. Use of a meat protein extraction enzyme during processing to facilitate the extraction of meat residues from the bones.
4. Use of cellulase enzyme systems to convert the wheat straw into advanced biofuel.
By using these readily available biotech solutions to produce food, feed, energy, and materials, the overall productivity of the land could be increased remarkably. One hectare of land could produce an extra 285 kg meat, 1,100 liters biofuel, 1,600 kWh electricity, and 350 m3 biogas and fertilizer, as well as a reduction in emissions of 2.2 tons CO2-equivalents.
To put this into perspective:
• Global swine production is around 100 million tons annually. Assuming a 50% penetration of the biotech solutions in the study, meat production would be increased by around 6 million tons per year. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels would be reduced by 50 million tons per year – all this without using more land for farming
• 6 million tons of additional meat annually could cover the basic needs of more than 200 million people (70 g meat per day)
• Avoiding 50 million tons CO2 corresponds to taking 12 million cars off the road
“And this is only the beginning,” said Steen Riisgaard. “In the true bio-based society there will be even more synergies stemming from agriculture and biotech.”