Embrace the challenges of the animal feed industry

Animal agriculture has undergone remarkable change and growth during the past few decades, and it will continue to change in the coming years to meet higher demand for low-cost, healthy and convenient products. In addition to the expanding markets, animals are being genetically selected for ever increasing growth performance and efficiency.

This change in production efficiency has been most notable in the poultry industry. The future presents new consumer-driven challenges that are shifting the focus away from production and cost minimization towards consumer confidence and product value.

Regardless of this changing focus, the sustainability of animal agriculture must concentrate on integrated profitability. The feed industry is the foundation upon which the animal industry must build a sustainable future.

Change is a powerful motivating force for business. Those that resist the challenges of change will ultimately fail, while those who embrace challenges are more likely to succeed. According to Peter Drucker (1909-2005), professor of Social Science and Management, "Economic change is the most powerful engine for human betterment".

Peter Drucker, recognized by experts in business and academia as the father of the study of management, was one who often thought and wrote about the challenges of change.

In his classic book on the fundamentals of management, The Practice of Management, he said "The only way to predict the future is to create it" and "To maximize profits, you must be quick to adopt to new technologies". In contrast to Dr. Drucker’s admonition, the animal feed industry’s typical response to the fire of change is to quench it rather than use it to ignite a new venture or opportunity. Many companies are resistant to adopting new technologies, rather waiting for a competitor to succeed before running hard to catch up.

The new opportunities for the feed industry are hidden within the changing paradigms in agribusiness. There is a shift from low cost production strategies to value-added strategies. Rather than concentrating on minimizing feed costs, the feed industry should focus more on value-added strategies: How can your company capture value and convey it to your customers? Differentiate products and services from competitors and create a"brand" that is recognized by the consumer? Increase retailer and consumer confidence by addressing food safety, product traceability, and convenience? Since most companies compete globally, they must be flexible to meet international trade requirements.

Today, the feed industry is faced with a whole range of new challenges; many are related to the profit potential of a business venture. Maximized profits come by maximizing product value and minimizing costs of production. Where product value is measured by elements of animal growth performance and meat yield, animal health and welfare, and consumer demand for safe and quality food, the cost of delivering value added products must not be ignored. Feed represents more than half of the total costs of delivering food animal products to customers, and it represents over 70% of the total live production costs.

Feed costs are influenced by four major factors: First, global energy costs have a direct influence on feed ingredient, manufacturing, and delivery costs. As fossil fuel prices rise, demand for and prices of energy-rich feed ingredients increase. Part of that demand comes directly from the feed industry in an effort to improve caloric conversion and reduce the transportation costs associated with ingredient receiving and feed delivery.

The other part of this demand comes from the increasing competition for feedstock for ethanol and biodiesel production. Second, the availability of feed protein and energy sources impacts feed costs as the supply/demand relationship of animal by-products changes. Third, feed ingredient quality can affect feed costs by changes in nutrient variability and digestibility of feedstuffs. Finally, feed costs are affected by the choice of feed additives. The choice of pharmaceutical vs. nutraceutical feed additives will depend upon efforts to satisfy consumer demands or comply with governmental regulations.

One of the most important objectives of the feed industry is to capture the full value of feed ingredients, especially those derived from grains. The use of animal by-products in formula feeds is decreasing in response to public concerns about transmissible diseases, such as BSE, salmonellosis, and avian influenza. In contrast, ‘all-veggie’ feeds are becoming increasingly popular; but this requires feed companies to include more high fiber grain co-products in feeds to control feed costs.

I think the greatest opportunity to capture the true value of these grains and their co-products is by the strategic use of supplemental enzyme preparations, including pentosanase, protease, cellulose, pectinase, amylase, phytase, and β-glucanase. Natural blends of such diverse enzyme activities can be produced by solid state fermentation, as developed by Alltech Inc., to produce enzyme products as Allzyme® Vegpro and Allzyme® SSF.

The exploitation of supplemental enzymes by the feed industry is sure to unleash great potential in capturing the value of feed formulations. Enzymes can be used to reduce the adverse effects of anti-nutritional factors that compromise nutrient availability or compromise the health and welfare of animals. Enzymes, including phytase, protease, and cellulase, render nutrients more available for digestion and absorption. During Alltech’s Medal of Excellence 2005 Award address, Dr. Mingan Choct presented evidence that Allzyme® SSF significantly degrades crude fiber, resulting in an uplift of dietary energy. Enzymes, including amylase and pentosanase, may directly or indirectly increase the energy value of feed for animals, thus allowing greater flexibility in formulating least-cost feeds.

Ramesh and Devegowda (2004) demonstrated that Allzyme® SSF supplementation of a high-fiber diet uplifts metabolizable energy value by 150 kcal/kg feed, which could be used to improve growth performance or reduce feed formulation costs. Similarly, dietary supplementation of Allzyme® Vegpro has been demonstrated by several studies to uplift the energy and protein digestibility of soybean meal by up to 7%. Taking advantage of this nutrient uplift by least-cost feed formulation can save about $10 per ton of feed without adversely affecting growth performance.

Finally, supplemental enzyme blends can help modulate or stabilize gut microflora by increasing microbial substrate diversity (Ferket et al., 2005). The potential of using novel enzyme preparations to reduce the colonization of enteric pathogens and improve gut health of animals is particularly important if feed additive antibiotic growth promoters are not used.

Another challenge with a profound effect on the animal feed industry is related to the social health movement to confine the use of antibiotics to human medicine. Antibiotic usage by the food animal industry has come under increasing scrutiny by some scientists, consumers, and government regulators because of potential development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, including pathogenic strains. On January 1, 2006, David Byrne, European Union Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, made good on his mission: to ban the use of all antibiotics as growth promoters.

However, because the therapeutic use of antibiotics is still permitted, the ban of antibiotic growth promoters has done little to reduce the risk of increasing antibiotic resistance of pathogens. According to the most recent DANMAP report, the total use of antibiotics is higher in 2004 than in the two years prior to Denmark’s ban on antibiotic growth promoters in 1998. Moreover, the incidence of resistant isolates (i.e., Salmonella typhimurium) in Denmark to tetracycline, chloramphenicol, ampicillin, and ciprofloxacin has increased since the ban.

Evidently, the ban on antibiotic growth promoters is causing the animal industry to use more therapeutic antibiotics to combat or prevent disease; the very same antibiotics used to treat human diseases. I think the ban on antibiotic growth promoters is bad policy that will result in far more antibiotic resistance problems in the future unless the use of all antibiotics is limited. Is this a dilemma or an opportunity for the feed industry?

According to Peter Drucker, an opportunity becomes clear when business managers get on the same side of the desk as their customers. Consumers send a clear message of their concern for public health and safety and the quality of their food supply. They want food products that they perceive as ‘natural’. The feed industry’s challenge then is to deliver ‘natural’ solutions, even if it takes a campaign to educate and redefine what is ‘natural’. To find ‘natural’ solutions consumers demand, the feed industry must use the synergy that already exists in nature. By applying the science of glycomics, ‘a natural’ alternative to antibiotics is possible without risking the development of resistance.

Glycomics refers to the study of sugars, glucocongugates, glycoproteins, and oligosaccharides within organisms and how they are involved in cell signaling, direct the movement of cells and proteins throughout the body, and regulate the immune system. These bioactive carbohydrates function as receptors for hormones, cytokines, and immune cells. Even pathogenic organisms elicit their disease-causing effects via their interaction with cellular glycoproteins.

For example, salmonellae with type 1 fimbriae colonize the enteric brush border by attaching to the mannose moiety of enterocyte surface glycoproteins. Glycomics could fuel a revolution in biology and biomedical research that rivals what genomics and proteomics have done for genes and proteins. Indeed, glycomic technology is now applied commercially in the feed industry as yeast cell wall derivative commonly known as mannan oligosaccharides.

Bio-Mos® (Alltech Inc.) is the commercial source of mannan oligosaccharides that has been used in most of the published research literature. Based on the scientific literature, Bio-Mos® enhances an animal’s resistance to enteric disease and promotes growth by the following means: 1) inhibits colonization of enteric pathogens by blocking bacterial adhesion to the gut lining; 2) enhances immunity; 3) modifies microflora fermentation to favor nutrient availability for the host; 4) enhances the brush border mucin barrier; 5) reduces enterocyte turnover rate; and 6) enhances the integrity of the gut lining (Ferket et al., 2005).

The ability of Bio-Mos® to interfere with the attachment of pathogenic bacteria in the gut raises the possibility that it could also inhibit the binding between bacteria that is required for plasmid transfer via conjugation. Lou (1995) demonstrated that dietary Bio-Mos® supplementation decreased the proportion of specific groups of Gram negative antibiotic-resistant fecal bacteria in pigs. Meta-analysis of several broiler and turkey studies by Hooge (2004) indicate that Bio-Mos® improved market weights and feed conversion by about 2% and reduced mortality rate by over 20% relative to non-medicated controls. This advantage is attributed to a positive effect on gut health.

I wish to close by repeating the quote from Peter Drucker: "To predict the future you must create it". You may argue that it is impossible to predict the future, but the feed industry can take greater control of its destiny by embracing the challenges mentioned above. Opportunities lie within the issues that face modern society. This society has a global perspective anchored to concerns about security and energy resources. Those in the feed industry that embrace the challenges of improving the security of the global food supply in a most energy and cost efficient means will succeed as leaders in the future.


by Peter R. Ferket, Department of Poultry Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University

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