Stakeholders meet to discuss alternatives to antimicrobials in animal feed
The routine use of antimicrobials in animal farming should be a thing of the past once a European Union ban comes into effect next year. EU-funded researchers and specialists in the field met in Brussels over the summer to consider viable alternatives to these animal feed additives.
Antimicrobials are widely used in the farming for food industry to promote growth and prevent disease in animals by destroying or inhibiting the growth of bacteria. However, their routine use in agriculture is a cause of concern, with suggestions of links to antibiotic resistance in human health.
|The EU aims to protect and raise the health status and condition of animals, in particular food-producing animals.|
© DG SANCO
But as experts have pointed out, stopping antibiotic use in animals is a challenge requiring a multifaceted solution – at both EU and national levels – involving regulation, research and education, as well as changes in trade and farming practices. Alternatives to antimicrobials in animal feed need to be found to meet the EU-wide ban on these substances from January 2006.
Scientists, representatives from farming and food organisations and Commission staff met in Brussels, on 15 June, to discuss EU-supported research solutions to this challenge. Developing new veterinary drugs is just part of the solution: setting up better monitoring (from the fork to the farm) of the food chain and establishing incentives for the farming and food industry to use alternatives are also important, the experts agree.
Vetting the alternatives
Delegates at the June meeting discussed various alternatives to reduce the use of antimicrobials, such as changing farming practices and using substitutes which target gastric physiology. “All have advantages and disadvantages,” notes the website developed to report on the seminar. The site includes a series of presentations from different projects and stakeholders given to highlight ongoing EU research in the field and stimulate constructive debate.
Leading institutions represented at the seminar included the Swedish National Veterinary Institute (SVA), France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), the Interuniversitären Forschungsinstitutes für Agrarbiotechnologie (IFA) in Austria and the UK’s Institute of Animal Health (IAH). Some 13 projects – including new ones such as Ace-art, Phagevet-P, Poultryflorgut and Supasalvac – funded by the Union’s Fifth and Sixth Research Framework Programme (FP5/6) took part in the seminar.
Most of those present conceded that the road ahead is challenging because of the complexities of animal digestive systems and a lack of knowledge on how feed and feed additives interact with microbial ecology. The stakeholders discussed how to change animal management systems to reduce the need for such additives, as well as the global issue of imports from areas with different production systems, and how to meet the regulations in this field.
The meeting report lists a number of key outputs which EU-funded research hopes to deliver on. These include filling the knowledge gap on basic gut physiology, including interaction with gut flora and feed additives; and the need for further research in the area of gut colonisation, in particular the bacterial genes involved.
Researchers also need to look into better animal management systems – for example in diet formulation, assessing the animal’s health status, and following appropriate weaning practices – which minimise the need for additives in feed. More research is also needed on the chemical, physiological, regulatory and trade-related aspects of antimicrobial use in animal feed, the 28-page seminar report notes.
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