The role of functional feed additives after Antibiotic Growth Promoters ban


Daniel Ramirez, MVZ, MSc and Tim Goossens, Ph.D., Business Development Managers “Digestive Performance”, Nutriad International, Belgium

Antibiotic resistance overview

Global meat production increased by almost 20% in the last decade, where the pork and poultry industries showed the highest level of expansion.  Rapid urbanization and increasing incomes have had a strongly positive effect on animal protein consumption. Improvements in feed technology and animal production systems have contributed to the shift from extensive to intensive farming operations. However, high-density animal production operations can increase the incidence of disease. Therefore, to prevent disease, livestock and poultry are frequently fed with some antibiotics which are also used for humans.  The extensive usage of these antibiotics at low levels for disease prevention (prophylaxis) and for maximizing animal productivity as antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs), to increase growth rate or production of meat, milk, and eggs is concerning. Consequently, the more frequent the antibiotics are used in daily operations, the faster the natural development of resistance. The resistant bacteria can then spread into the environment and enter the food supply chain. In turn, these resistant strains cause diseases in humans, putting both humans and animals at risk due to the threat of treatment failure.

A global health problem

Antimicrobial resistance is a global health problem. The consensus of worldwide experts is that it is dangerous and unjustifiable to use antibiotics that are related to drugs of critical importance in human medicine for prophylactic or growth promotion purposes. An integrated approach that includes strict government regulations, improved farm management, and general animal health status are indispensable for the successful implementation of AGPs ban. As an example, EU countries have reduced their dependency on antibiotics while maintaining a highly productive and intensive systems. Finally, the ban of using medically important antibiotics as AGPs would also open an opportunity for better preservation of future antimicrobials during a time when their efficacy is highly compromised.

Emerging opportunities for alternative feed additives

As the market has put tremendous pressure on the balance between highly productive animals and the reduced use of antibiotics, livestock and poultry producers are looking for new alternatives that can deliver the same benefits provided by AGPs. For years, functional feed additives have been gaining considerable interest because their ability to improve performance by sustaining a healthy gut environment, optimum microbiota balance in early life, and strong foundations for preventing intestinal colonization of enteric pathogens. This creates a significant opportunity for alternatives that can substitute or reduce the use of AGPs. In addition, following the ban, countries in the APAC region that export animal products, such as chicken and pork meat, will find it difficult to continue without alternative solutions.

An obvious choice is the development of alternatives to antibiotics that work via similar physiological mechanisms which may, in turn, affect microorganisms, maximizing livestock health, and growth, whilst enhancing the efficiency of feed conversion. Several different feed additives such as enzymes, prebiotics & probiotics, organic acids, plant extracts, and proprietary blends are emerging as potential alternatives to protect livestock from pathogens whilst improving growth performance. However, the general belief is that there is no direct replacement available for AGPs. Instead, a multifactorial approach and integral programs are needed.

What we have learn from the countries that already ban AGPs 

The whole animal production industry was worried about decreased productivity as well as increased disease prevalence because of the AGP ban. There were many objections and arguments continued for years until AGPs were completely banned. Since the ban, everyone has realized that nothing has changed, and the industry realized that the efficacy of AGPs was very limited in terms of growth promotion or feed efficiency.

The experience in the EU shows that an integrated approach that includes strict government regulations, improved farm management, general animal health status and production processes are indispensable for the successful implementation of AGPs ban. Importantly, the improvement of gut health contributes to the overall health status of animals. Consequently, an appropriate vaccination scheme and a satisfactory animal management including infectious disease prevention and control program, would help to limit additional antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It would also open an opportunity for better preservation of future antimicrobials during a time when their efficacy is highly compromised. Lastly, the integration of an interdisciplinary approach (one health concept) is needed to control AMR dissemination.

At Nutriad, it is believed that it is possible to drastically reduce the use of AGPs in the animal production systems through an integral approach. The versatility of Nutriad products allows feed producers to drastically reduce the use of antibiotics while ensuring that their protection against pathogens remains robust. Meanwhile, Nutriad suggests a holistic animal management approach (such as appropriate treatment, strict control of antimicrobial agents, early clinical and microbiological diagnosis, and implementation of strict animal production standards) is needed to reduce AMR on animal and human health.