Consumer demand for naturally-reared meat has created a market
opportunity for new growth promoting animal feed additives. Micro-organism
alternatives to antibiotic products were known, but technical obstacles
had prevented their effective commercialisation.
This project undertook the development and optimisation of production
processes never realised before with specifically selected bacteria
to be used in animal feed, and on an industrial scale achieved the
key goals of consistent dosage, stability in storage, and reliable
The partners have perfected pilot production of a commercial additive,
BIACTON, which will meet new regulations governing this class of zootechnical
feed additive. The cooperation will continue through to full-scale
production and world-wide commercialisation.
Antibiotic feed additives have for many
years been used to promote growth in agricultural livestock. Recently,
however, feed manufacturers have reduced the quantities of antibiotics
added to animal feeds, in response to consumer demand for more natural
husbandry methods. Already in several European countries, some molecules
have been banned from use in animal feed.
With the support of the European Commission and a regional biotechnology
programme (BRITTA) the partners in this CRAFT project have succeeded
in developing a natural growth promoter, BIACTON, which will soon
be widely available as one solution to reduce the use of conventional
Involving both basic research and the development of industrial
production processes and equipment, this truly integrated project
has overcome the substantial difficulties which prevented earlier
exploitation of a known physiological effect.
A natural feed additive
It has long been understood that naturally occurring micro-organisms
can have a positive effect on the fattening of pigs, poultry, and
beef cattle. The efficiency with which feed is converted into body
weight depends upon the activity of intestinal microflora. Specific
bacteria can help to optimise the balance of these microflora, producing
animals which are healthier and which gain weight more rapidly.
Feed additives based on this technique have been produced commercially
before, but they have failed to meet the standards demanded by feed
manufacturers and farmers. It proved impossible to guarantee a consistent
dosage using available industrial-scale production methods, and
there were problems with the viability of the bacteria after its
mixture with the feed. The European Commission was so concerned
about the dangers of uncontrolled production that it introduced
a new regulation governing this class of zootechnical feed additive.
The goal of the project was to develop both a commercial product,
based for the first time upon bacteria selected from the intestinal
flora of healthy animals, which met in full the specifications laid
down by the Commission, and the equipment and processes necessary
for full-scale industrial production for a world-wide market.
Mixed fermentation breakthrough
Initiated and led by the French company Bio Armor, the project
also involved two partners from Belgium and Italy. The project was
well-supported by the Commission's scientific partner and the partners
were untroubled by any competitive tension between them. These factors,
combined with their understanding of market conditions in the sector,
allowed them to focus clearly on well-defined market-oriented goals.
A fourth SME, a manufacturer of equipment for the feed industry
specialised in fermentation apparatus, contributed essential industrial-scale
production process know-how.
The project's research work was divided into two areas, corresponding
to the two main obstacles it faced. The three research partners
were chosen for their expertise in these two key areas. The CBB
Développement, which coordinated the research, and ISTAB
(Université de Bordeaux) had considerable experience in bacteria
fermentation. The Centre de Microencapsulation (CME), meanwhile,
would develop the means to protect the bacteria against deterioration.
In previous attempts to commercialise bioregulators, different bacterial
strains had been cultured, dried and coated separately, only being
mixed at the final stage. This had made it impossible to ensure
a consistent dosage of each strain. The two Lactobacilli strains
selected by ISTAB, on the other hand, were to be produced as a single
biomass by CBB Développement. The challenge was to develop
and optimise a repetitive mixed fermentation process to produce
biomass on an industrial scale, something which had never been achieved
In addition, the additive must be able to withstand storage in the
feed mix, within a fairly wide temperature range, for up to six
months at room temperature. If reactivated by the moisture in the
feed, the dried bacteria would multiply and die before it ever reached
the animal's digestive tract. An improved means of protecting it
against both moisture and heat had to be found. The technology chosen
was micro-encapsulation, already widely used for medicines and cosmetics,
which involves the formation of a coating matrix around each droplet
during a gentle spray-drying process. The challenge was to adapt
this process to living material.
This twin-track research effort was iterative, with the results
of fermentation and micro-encapsulation work feeding into one another.
The multiple parameters involved in each process interacted in unpredictable
ways, and it was not always easy to identify the causes of good
or bad end results.
Nevertheless, by the end of the 20-month project the partners had
achieved almost everything they had hoped. A mixed fermentation
process for bacteria specifically selected as bioregulators had
been optimised at both laboratory and pilot industrial scales. Compatible
micro-encapsulation equipment and processes, which did not damage
the resulting biomass, had been developed. Particle size had also
been adjusted to ensure a dust-free product, a key requirement among
feed manufacturers. Finally, the partners had completed the procedures
for the product's registration under the new EC regulations.
An innovative registered bioregulator
The scale and complexity of the project, and the speed with which
it had to be undertaken in order to be 'first to market' with a
registered bioregulator, placed it beyond the financial and technical
grasp of the SMEs involved. Even with EC support, the project ran
over its budget, and its completion was supported by Brittany's
regional Britta Programme.
Now the partners face the final hurdle of scale-up from the 300
litre batch process achieved within the project to a full-scale
industrial process of between 3,000 and 5,000 litres. All will benefit
from the commercialisation of the project's results. Bio Armor itself
will produce the bioregulator, marketing it world-wide as BIACTON.
The product will also be marketed in Benelux.
Medilabor will apply the micro-encapsulation technique to other
non-stable animal feed additives, such as vitamin supplements. The
equipment manufacturer Goavec will exploit the expertise gained
in the project by developing the fermentation process for manufacturers
in other sectors.
Bio Armor and CME have jointly registered a patent on the micro-encapsulation
technology they developed in the project, which will be exploited
by Bio Armor in the field of animal feedstuffs, and by CME in all
BIACTON will face stiff competition. Companies much larger than
the CRAFT project partners, in the United States and Japan as well
as in Europe, are also working on natural alternatives. However,
BIACTON will be unique in using selected new bacterial strains specifically
developed for the animal feed market.