A project funded by the European development organisation Eureka has helped scientists to produce a fortifying feed for piglets without the use of antibiotics.
The use of antibiotics in animal feeds may soon be banned in theEuropean Union. Despite positive effects on pig health and growth, there aregrowing concerns about bacterial resistance to antibiotics. This includesthe risk of cross-resistance, with bacteria developing resistance toantibiotics used in human medicine.
In response, the Eureka project Antibiotics In Feed hasdeveloped what it claims is safe and healthy piglet feeds which are free from antibiotics.Crucially, the new feeds can be introduced into today'sfeed manufacturing practice.
"When leaving out antibiotics there is a proven risk of diminished health,such as more diarrhoea and losses of piglets so it was important to developalternatives to antibiotics that can minimise these problems," explained DrAnnemarie Dirkzwager of Dutch lead partner Institute of Animal Nutrition DeSchothorst.
The partners worked both separately and together, testing a whole range ofproducts with different mechanisms. They evaluated dietary additions anddifferent feed compositions in order to better understand the processestaking place in the piglet's gut after weaning.
In vitro testing was used to explain the workings of the piglet in vivo experiments at cell level, by testing the effects of different feedadditives in a CaCo-2 system representing a human cancer colon cell line.This behaves like piglet enterocytes during their growth and development.The tests showed that some organic acids had a positive effect on growth andimproved gut condition.
The major problem that the partners had to tackle in the in vivo experimentswas to ensure that the piglet test results were comparable and consistent.
"Each partner had different facilities to do experiments with piglets. Also,the handling of the piglets was different, for example the age they wereweaned and whether the piglets were kept outdoors or indoors," said Dirkzwager.
Dirkzwager found the Eureka project to be "a good and safe way to start upco-operation with less known partners. Once you have worked together in aproject you know the reliability of the partner and the kind of results heobtains. Then it is easier to start further projects."
The project's experiments developed methods to strengthen processes in thegut and overcome negative effects caused by the lack of antibiotics. Thesealternative additives and standards for maximum or minimum levels of rawmaterials and nutrients are now being used by feed manufacturers, including theproject partners, to create safe piglet feeds without antibiotics. They havealso been adopted by farmers.
Eureka is a European network for market-oriented R&D which aims to strengthen European competitiveness, promote innovation in market-oriented collaborative projects, involving industry, research institutes and universities across Europe to develop innovative products, processes and services.