And, in an interview with FeedNavigator, Leo den Hartog, director of R&D at the Dutch feed giant, noted the growing consensus and pressure globally concerning the need to move towards more responsible use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals.
“In Europe, there is a huge focus on the reduction of the use of such drugs in livestock.
The Dutch poultry production industry has been lessening its reliance on antibiotics - by 2013 the broiler sector showed it had achieved a decrease in their usage of between 40% and 50%. The Dutch government wants a reduction in antibiotic usage across all livestock sectors by 70% this year.
We also see McDonald’s in the US saying it will only be sourcing chicken raised without human medicine important antibiotics by 2017. And, in Asia and Latin America, we increasingly hear discussions around the need to refine the provision of antibiotics in order to decelerate the development of resistance both in humans and animals,” he said
Prudent use of antibiotics in livestock, he continued, involves their administration in a curative rather than preventative way, with only the sick animal treated and not the whole barn.
And nutrition has a role to play in terms of supporting the more responsible use of antimicrobial drugs in livestock but their replacement is not a quick fix, said den Hartog.
Despite positive in vitro results, there is often a lack of consistency in the findings on the in vivo use of antibiotic substitutes due, perhaps, to inadequate dosage levels.
“In our centers, we regularly research alternatives, screening natural products [medium chain fatty acids, polyphenols] for their impact on gut health. We look to their effect on microbiology, cell integration and immunity modulation to determine what dosage would be optimal,” he said.
A diversified and balanced intestinal tract microbiota is critical for an animal’s overall health, productivity and well-being, he continued.
“Through our experiments, we have seen the negative impact a stressful period like weaning can have on such diversity in the microbiota of piglets,” said den Hartog.
Many gaps still remain in relation to scientific knowledge around gut health and animals but “now, at least, we know where we have to focus on in terms of our study of the microbiota,” said the animal nutrition specialist.
He said the Nutreco researchers are increasingly using methods such as pyrosequencing technology to perform diversity analyses of gastrointestinal populations.
Knowledge of the microbiota composition in healthy and unhealthy animals assisted in developing the company’s Presan feed formula that is designed to boost the gut barrier integrity of swine and poultry. “We are now exploring its use in calves,” said the R&D director.
Nutreco is collaborating with a number of research institutes globally in this field incuding, among others, Wageningen University. It is also working with infant formula producer, Mead Johnson, in research aimed at optimizing nutrition for young animals by supporting their immune system.