It is probably unsurprising to learn that many on the panel are frankly tired of feed additives whose pitch mainly reposes on buzz words and general language without any relationship to the product. As explained by Kees Geerse, senior nutritionist and consultant from F2Care, he is frustrated when additives don’t even mention the active component but merely sell a proprietary blend of goodies: “as a feed nutritionist it is difficult to evaluate the value of these products.” Erik Dam Jensen, chief nutritionist from Hedegaard a/s Denmark and former chair of the animal nutrition industry of FEFAC, concurs, saying: “if it doesn’t have proven effects [backed by scientific studies], I don’t consider it.”
However, even those who have studies backing their products’ efficacy should be aware that these studies are often found wanting by the decision makers they are trying to convince. Among the problems cited: incomplete data sets being made available, and absent information about the study methodology. Geerse also explained how imperfect methodologies could obscure whether an additive could truly replace another nutrient; for example, if you are attempting to show your additive can serve as a source of vitamin x, you might decrease the amount of vitamin x in the control diet and show that no consequence is visible on animal performance; however, if that vitamin is being over-fed in the standard diet, the decrease would not necessarily show a decrease in performance. “Proof of efficacy seems so easy, but in the end is not so easy,” he says.
In his view, part of the responsibility for the decline in the information available to nutritionists is due to the fact that public funding for research is dwindling, leaving privately-funded studies commissioned by the product manufacturers to fill the gap. Calling for objective independent data, both including the nutritional profile of ingredients and about nutritional requirements of the animal, he observes that “minerals and energy are orphans; no one is dealing with them, no public institutions are [looking at] that.”
At the same time as resources are seen to be declining, demands for improved understanding of nutritional requirements are only increasing, particularly in the aqua sector, where Tone Stigen Martinsen, CEO and Consultant of Bjørnerød Konsult AS, drew attention to the neverending cycles of substitution. “For years there was a drive to find other raw materials than fishmeal, which meant a larger amount of soymeal. Now soymeal is also a victim of substitution. It keeps going on and on.” And of course, the substitution of one ingredient for another requires a new series of studies into how the new ingredient is meeting the animal’s need for vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Meanwhile, in the poultry sector, Tom Hughes, nutrition and innovation manager from Moy Park, admitted that while his company had looked at alternatives for coccidiostats, including both feed products and vaccines, they have “yet to find something to deliver as good a result as coccidiostats.” Aware that there is pressure from both retailers and public—and maybe someday regulators—to consider alternatives, he concludes that “there is nothing out there that would entice us to go down that route [of eliminating coccidiostats from feed] voluntarily at the moment.
Finally, in pigs, there is significant concern about whether the solutions necessary to replace zinc oxide in weaning pig diets are in place. Jensen indicates that, while alternatives exist, they are expensive enough to pose real questions about implementation for farmers who want to make a livelihood; moreover, you might end up with growth significantly below the genetic potential of the animal. “We need to fine tune tools for the situation.” However, he is heartened by the cooperation between the industry and the authorities on this point to brainstorm new solutions, investigate their feasibility, and see what can be done.