Life-Sustaining Soy Protein

By Rick Purnell

Well-positioned for human and animal nutrition and emerging protein market opportunities

A look at food trends confirms consumers understand and value protein in their diets now more than ever. Whether animal- or plant-based protein, demand is growing worldwide.

Versatile Human Food

The global plant-based protein market was worth more than $4.6 billion in 2018 and will grow to about $85 billion by 2030, according to Swiss investment firm UBS. And the variety of soy protein products is quickly growing. “Meats” and beverages, including the Impossible Burger, soymilk and soy yogurt, are attracting consumers interested in health, lifestyle and nutrition.

Cordialis Msora-Kasago, MA, RDN, is a registered dietitian in Los Angeles who represents the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She observes soy food products have come a long way.

“A walk through the grocery store highlights the increased varieties of soy and soy-containing products in the U.S.,” she says. “From edamame and soy nuts to tofu, tempeh and soy sauce, it is evident Americans find numerous ways to enjoy it. Store refrigerators feature soy turkey, soy chicken, soy sausage and even soy hot dogs, which indicate soy’s versatility in American diets.”

Msora-Kasago says edamame and soy nuts are great nutritional alternatives to high-fat, high-sodium snack foods. In addition, soy’s nutrient density makes it a healthful, affordable replacement to milk and milk products. Compared to other plant-based beverages, soymilk boasts an impressive nutrient profile at eight grams of protein per eight-ounce serving.

Reason supports the soy solution. Mark Messina, PhD, with Nutrition Matters of Pittsfield, Mass., is a recognized expert on soy’s health effects and says it is unique among legumes.

“For one, it provides more protein and a higher-quality protein than other legumes,” he says. “It is also a source of both essential fatty acids, including the omega-3 essential fat alpha-linolenic acid. And, it provides ample amounts of isoflavones which are a group of naturally occurring compounds being widely studied for their health benefits. The low-carbohydrate content of soybeans means that many soyfoods easily fit into diets restricting carbohydrate intake.”

The global plant-based protein market was worth more than $4.6 billion in 2018 and will grow to about $85 billion by 2030, according to Swiss investment firm UBS.

Critical Animal Feed Ration

Soy protein has been used in feed rations for a century but has become critical the last 50 years.

“If you look at a graph of how the poultry and swine industries have evolved over that time, it parallels the production of soybeans and soybean meal,” says Hans Stein, PhD, animal science professor at the University of Illinois. “You could argue that soybean meal has been the prerequisite for our success in pork and poultry production.”

Stein adds that soy’s unique combination of amino acids is key to its functionality and success. When blended with corn, soybean meal easily meets swine and poultry protein requirements.

Consumption trends support this. Broilers, layers and turkeys in the U.S. account for nearly 64 percent of U.S. soybean meal use, while hogs consume more than 24 percent, according to the United Soybean Board’s (USB) most recent 2018 Soybean Meal Demand Assessment. (See the article, A Perfect Protein, page XX for detail.) There’s growth in other poultry markets, too.

Worldwide, farmed animals consume 90 percent of soybean meal.

“Poultry sector gains in Egypt and Pakistan are leading recent growth in U.S. soy consumption,” says Keenan McRoberts, PhD, USB vice president of meal strategy. “Global growth has occurred across species over time with poultry leading the charge. U.S. markets are more uncertain, especially for swine. Alternatives, such as synthetic amino acids and dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) affect soybean meal use in monogastric diets.

Challenges aside, the amino acids in soybean meal make a nutritional powerhouse and Stein sees fresh opportunity in soy’s energy.

“The energy part of soybean meal has been overlooked,” he says. “The concentration of energy it provides to pigs is underestimated. We need more research to fully evaluate this opportunity. There also are some indications that soybean meal helps younger pigs if they’re slightly sick.”

That work is underway. Stein says University of Illinois researchers recently started a trial that they hope will demonstrate what the exact energy value is.

To capitalize on global opportunity, USB recently launched Choose U.S. Protein First, a campaign that promotes consumption of U.S. soy, beef, pork and poultry worldwide.

“This initiative is a unique, pre-competitive collaboration to ensure all forms of U.S. protein remain the preferred global choice to help meet future demand and nutritional requirements of a growing population,” McRoberts says. “U.S. soy will reinforce the critical role that U.S. farmers serve in global food and economic security.”

Natural Fit for Fish

“Aquaculture is perfect for Colombia,” says Juan-Carlos Libreros, chief operating officer. “With our location just above the equator, we can farm 365 days a year. Plus, tilapia is a fish that, when provided the right conditions, rewards us with great performance.”Soybean meal has become the most-used protein source in aquaculture feed worldwide. Its high protein density and ease of digestion make it a near-perfect feed ingredient for nearly all cultured fish and shrimp species. Plus, the World Food Bank and United Nations predict fish farms may produce up to two-thirds of the global fish supply by 2030.

PezCo Aquafarming is a family owned, fully integrated company that produces certified sustainable, fresh and frozen tilapia and rainbow trout. Its hatcheries, farms and processing operations are in Colombia, South America. U.S. headquarters are in St. Petersburg, Fla. Colombia and Honduras are the top two suppliers of fresh tilapia filets to the U.S.

“Aquaculture is perfect for Colombia,” says Juan-Carlos Libreros, chief operating officer. “With our location just above the equator, we can farm 365 days a year. Plus, tilapia is a fish that, when provided the right conditions, rewards us with great performance.”

Juan-Carlos Libreros (L), COO and Luis Ignacio Libreros (R), CEO of PezCo Aquafarming.Feed conversion rate (FCR) for tilapia is 1.3. For every 1.3 pounds of feed consumed, a healthy fish returns a pound of weight. FCR for trout is similar. There are plenty of fish to feed the ration of mostly soybean meal, some corn and a small amount of fish meal, Omega-3s and vitamins.

“For tilapia filet production, we have 11 farms,” Libreros says. “Four farms supply red tilapia and nine produce rainbow trout. We have a network of 600 employees and farm owners.

“We feed about 1,000, 40-pound sacks of feed per day to fish at the 11 farms for filets, and about 250, 40-pound sacks each daily to the red tilapia and trout,” he adds. “In addition to being an efficient feed for the fish, there’s little waste with soy.”

While not taking place at Pezco, Libreros acknowledges work the U.S. Soybean Export Council has underway with in-pond raceway systems in Columbia.

“They’re looking for ways to help our producers be more efficient,” he says. “They’re not just interested in selling soy, but helping producers be more effective at using soy.”

Animal agriculture consumes 90 percent of soy meal globally.It is clear opportunities are growing. Aquaculture continues to contribute more to the food supply and will need more soybean meal. And the combined work of soybean, livestock and poultry industry campaigns can spur growth in new and emerging markets, while food company innovators match soy products to any lifestyle. Such discoveries and market opportunities ensure soybean farmers can help feed diverse protein products to a projected 10 million people by 2050.