Don’t go without

Why phytogenic feed additives will play a major role in tomorrow‘s food production

Strong market pressure is being applied to align livestock farming with the concept of clean, green and ethical. In this concept, “clean” stands for reduced use of chemicals (e.g. hormones, drugs, antibiotics) and relates to reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance. “Green” focuses on the environmental impact and “ethical” is related to the improvement of animal welfare.

Inevitably, the impact of such concept in the feed and food industry will be no trifle, but we have strong allies in this contest. One powerful tool to help make our feed and food healthier now and in the future comes from plant kingdom: phytogenics.

Sharpen the weapon

As stated by the FAO, good nutrition is a pre-condition for a healthy and productive life for humans. It is no surprise, thus, that we see a globally increasing demand for wholesome food and a growing consumer awareness of environmental sustainability and safety. Driven by regulatory actions and/or tied to customer demands for antibiotic-free meat, we have witnessed the ban on antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) in key feed markets such Europe and the US, and observed a decline of the usage of antibiotics in animal feed. This is a welcome development not only in terms of clean production. Obviously, the trend to reduce the usage of antibiotics cannot result in a complete ban on drugs from livestock production. It is our firm belief that, according to animal welfare principles, sick animals should be given the necessary treatment. And this, we all know, will often be an antibiotic, at least as long as there are no other viable alternatives from a medical perspective. Still the ban on prolonged growth promoting and shotgun style prophylactic treatments will not only lead to cleaner meat, it will also be a major achievement in the battle against antibiotic resistance. The less we use the antibiotic weapon and the more selective we apply it, the sharper it will get.

From nature for nature

Phytogenics represent a promising alternative to AGPs based on their bioactivity associated to increased feed intake, improved gut function, prevention of diarrhea, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects in animals. And there is even more to it. Phytogenic feed additives have been reported to have a positive influence on feed palatability, intestinal microbiome structure and, last but not least, have been related to growth-promoting effects. They may minimize the environmental impact of the livestock industry by reducing the gas emissions into the atmosphere and improve animal welfare ameliorating behaviours such as feather pecking in birds or cannibalism in swine or improving litter quality and gas emissions in the stalls. The recent discovery of quorum sensing (QS), a signalling mechanism that bacteria use to communicate and manifest their virulence and the possibility to disrupt (quorum quenching) QS by small molecules, enzymes or probiotics represent a promising tool to control enteric pathogens and thus diarrheal diseases in animals. There is increasing evidence suggesting quorum quenching ability of various phytogenic products.

Feeding welfare

Based on the available evidence, it is clear that phytogenic compounds represent a potential alternative to in-feed antibiotics for food animal production, and their combination is a possible strategy to avoid bacterial resistance improving safety, efficacy and animal welfare.

Animal welfare in modern farming is not a mere trend but a necessity from an ethical as much as from an economic point of view. It is a global issue and concerns everyone in the food value chain, including suppliers, retailers and consumers. Since feeding is the first link in the food chain, here lies the starting point for measures that help improve animal welfare. Research has proven that feed additives can influence animal welfare in a positive way and phytogenics play an important part in this. At Dr. Eckel, the concept to influence animal welfare through feeding is well established, as it is demonstrated by our products with the seal “Animal Welfare Inside”. These phytogenic feed additives were developed specifically to improve animal welfare and represent valid solutions to ameliorate stress related issues, reduce inflammation, support the immune system and ultimately better animal performance.

Still work to be done

So all is well? Not quite. There are several market restrictors that limit a widespread adoption of feed phytogenic. For example, in some developing countries the regulations are not yet so stringent and do not restrict the use of AGPs and/or antibiotics. Cost-effectiveness may also be a challenge related to the use of feed phytogens. It is known that there is no silver bullet and that it is very challenging for phytogenic feed additives to replicate the action of antibiotics. Most of the people use them because they see an improvement of health and performance in their animals, but often there are not strong enough data to prove it. The feed additives market is saturated with products with claims far beyond their true capabilities and not backed up by research. In addition, most phytogenic feed additives are not regulated and do not go through a stringent approval process like drugs which contributes to increase the skepticism of the customers.

Despite all challenges, phytogenics have gained traction because of the consumer trending toward clean label and organic products. According to Markets and Markets, the global animal feed phytogenics market is projected to reach almost 1 Billion US-Dollar within the next years, with an annual growth rate of 8.8 per cent.

Standardisation of the quality of the phytogenics can be achieved by optimised cultivation conditions as well as genetic engineering. The development of sensitive and specific analytical methods to identify and quantify the bioactive components in feed and in the animals can contribute to a better understanding. Moreover, the novel encapsulation technologies that protect the bioactive molecules during storage and feed processing and enable controlled release in the animals’ gut are a promising tool to standardise safety, efficacy, reliable and cost effective natural feed additives.

Guide through the jungle

Reducing in-feed antibiotics may require more than just feed additives. An integrative prevention program seems to be a valid strategy. Herd management, including improvement of the quality of feed, water and living conditions, should be the focus together with rigorous control of the entire value chain.

While phytogenic feed additives have rightfully gained an important role in animal nutrition, they are no panacea, no cure-all solution. Customers will need help in finding their way through the jungle of feed additives. Here, several key factors set the reliable and trustworthy manufacturer apart: A focus on customers’ needs to identify and offer the right solution to their problem; the technical know-how to enable product customisation; a dedicated customer service and prompt technical support; and robust published research to support claims. In the last 25 years, Dr. Eckel has consistently provided customers with innovative solutions and earned a reputation as a trustworthy manufacturer. Incorporated in a comprehensive feeding strategy, our phytogenic feed additives will contribute to a clean, green and healthy feed and food production.