Just chicken feed? Not any more
by Roger Gilbert, Milling and Grain reporting from IPPE 2019
When there's serious competition companies make increased investments in research and development and go on to further their commitment to product development in an effort to ensure customers achieve the best outcomes and return on investment.
As a result of this process everyone benefits from these commercial-driven initiatives.
That was clear at this year's IPPE 2019 in Georgia Congress Centre, Atlanta, USA where several companies provided clear evidence of recent investments being made in managing livestock and poultry health.
A key driver is the need to reduce, if not eliminate, the inclusion of antibiotics in every-day feed production systems.
Evonik is one such company supporting the health status of livestock.
It has over 120 researches close to its headquarters in Essen, Germany.
In fact, seven years ago it switched emphasis from a focus on nutritional amino acids only to understanding and managing 'gut health,' which has opened the way for 'new opportunities for product development,' says Professor Dr Stefan Pelzer who joined Evonik as its director of research and development in its Animal Nutrition Innovation Management section at that time.
He told Milling and Grain that by 2030 'we will have to provide food for 8.5 billion people who will be consuming some 45kg of meat per capita per year.' That compares to just 41kg/capita in 2011. Land resource per head will fall to 0.22ha/person from 0.25ha in 2011, he adds.
And to meet that food need, chicken will remain the meat of choice as its not associated with religious taboos, is robust and relatively easy to farm and is highly productive and cost efficient. Chicken consumption is expected to exceed pork consumption by the end of next year, according to the FAO.
It's not just food security that is driving research developments at Evonik, but also the need to reduce or eliminate the in-feed use of antibiotics.
And the drive to reduce the use of antibiotics is not coming from official government policy it says, but from feed customers responding to growing consumer awareness and the public debate taking place around the way antibiotics are being prescribed for human therapy as well, he adds.
'This is a very interesting development where biotech could provide a solution,' he adds.
'The bottom line is to avoid antibiotic use and that is focusing us on probiotics and areas where they can be effective in avoiding situation where antibiotics are needed.'
There are three area influencing gut health we focus on with a closed-up scientific approach: 1) the diet, 2) the bacteria within the gut called microbiota and 3) the host itself, he says.
The introduction of probiotics and their successful adoption must be based on their ability to benefit the animal's gut. And it's not just a single mode of action but a bit like a Swiss army knife, says Dr Pelzer.
Work has been carried out to understand the mode of action of strains being used by 'knocking out' genes, which show an influence on the probiotics effectiveness. The process of product development requires competences in strain discovery, fermentation process development and formulation followed by trials and then product manufacturing.
'Innovation has been required in each step through to the trial stage and again in the final application in the field.
'Probiotics have to work consistently and this depends on the maintaining quality from batch-to-batch. The situation on the farm is also a challenge as our products have to function under different farming conditions, in different diets and in different flocks.
'However, we have closed the gap between the laboratory and the farm. The transfer between the two is improving and chicken gut health is being better managed as a result.'
To this end Dr Pelzer says the company has developed a laboratory-based model that replicates a chicken's digestive system and is based on a human prototype that uses a series of cascading fermenters. The model is called 'Daisy' and allows researchers to test their products before carrying out trials on the chickens themselves.
'We can examine the bacteria of the microbiota and the reaction of the bacteria to our probiotics throughout the digestive process. We do not have to sacrifice a bird to get results and almost as importantly we can continue to follow an outcome after samples have been taken.'
The model is intended to reflect the interactions between feed, the immune system and the intestinal bacteria and will enable the testing of feed additives such as probiotics, he adds.
'Today we can answer key questions, where as in the past we still had a 'black box.' This gives us an insight to see what is going on beyond sample taking.'
'Daisy' was created based on more than 20 years of research at the University of Gent in cooperation with the spin-off company ProDigest BVBA which developed a simulation of the gastrointestinal tract of humans. At Evonik operation began as a laboratory model for poultry studies in mid-2018 after lengthy modifications.
'The use of 'Daisy' will help to increase the health of the chicken, improve efficiencies and reduce the use of antibiotics in chicken husbandry.
'That will make our probiotic an alternative to the antibiotic growth promoters,' says Pelzer.
'This is an important point since the World Health Organization sees a link between antibiotic growth promoters for the occurrence of increasingly resistant pathogens in humans that are difficult to fight,' he concludes.