|Brussels, 10 October 2001
Key words: spelt, agriculture, health
In the context of the European meat and bone meal ban a recently finished agricultural research project into improving the traditional, but minor, cereal crop spelt has demonstrated a potential alternative protein rich source, indigenous to Europe, with several agronomic advantages. The crop has also interesting quality features for food uses especially in the “health food” sector.
This research project carried out a comprehensive investigation of a minor, traditional European hulled cereal crop called spelt. This included novel and generic studies to establish the genome of spelt, its differentiation from other cereals, its adaptability to contrasting European agricultural environments and its genetic improvement. The chemical composition, physical attributes and organoleptic traits of spelt were determined along with the adaptability and practicality of growing spelt in countries or environments where it is not grown traditionally. Knowledge of quality features concerning human consumption and new products were assessed, along with its potential as a feed for animals. This project also relied heavily on the application of genomics and post genomic analysis by sequencing and identifying genetic domains to allow for selection of quality traits for bread making, purity and increased yield. Findings related to the use of spelt as a food cereal were also interesting. New baking processes were developed, along with new product lines for the pasta, beer and breakfast cereal markets. The work was carried out by the partners of the European Spelt Network from nine European countries representing the entire range of pedo-climatic, topographical, economic, and cultural conditions in Europe.
Spelt as an animal feed source
The results from this EU research project have demonstrated varieties of a cereal crop with an increased protein yield (18%) and a higher nitrogen efficiency enabling it to compete with wheat in the feed market. Its agronomic performance though is even more impressive. Spelt is better digested by ruminants with less nitrogen loss than other feeds. It can also grow in poor cold wet soil with minimal inputs where ruminants are most frequently reared. This opens the door for farmers to grow the feed themselves at low cost. This project is one of a series of research initiatives launched in the EU's Fourth Framework Programme 1994-1998 to investigate alternative feed crops to develop a more self-sufficient protein feed industry in Europe. The promising developments in these projects are indeed timely in view of the current animal feed problems. If properly exploited these could help alleviate protein replacement problems and allow farmers to diversify their production using an environment-friendly crop.
Implications for agriculture
The project has shown the potential for the introduction of new varieties of an environmentally friendly cereal crop with interesting markets in both the food and feed sectors. This is in line with current trends towards diversifying agricultural production and finding alternatives to meat and bone meal. Current cultivation in Europe for this crop is quite small at around 25-30000 ha. According to a recent Commission Communication cereals should contribute to supplement protein shortage in Europe as a result of the meat and bone meal ban. This offers an interesting opportunity for increased production of a high-protein cereal such as spelt. This is in line with a recent Commission Communication which encourages the use cereals in animal feed, following the ban on the use of meat and bone meal.
For further information please contact:
Adrien Dekeyser, Centre de Recherches Agronomiques de Gembloux,
Département de lutte biologique;
tel.: + 32.81.62.03.34; fax: + 220.127.116.11.11;
Xabier Goenaga, Quality of life
programme, Research DG,
tel.: + 32.2.296.14.34, fax: + 32.2.296.4322;