FEED Business Worldwide - April, 2011
Do you want your meat cheap or good? Natural supplements and the overturning of Asian agribusiness values
by Eric J. BROOKS
The way livestock is raised can be essentially categorized into three eras, one of which is past, another present, with a third one emerging. In the decade immediately after World War II, traditional livestock rearing give way to an era of synthetically produced vitamins, supplements, trace minerals, antibiotics and antibiotic-based growth promoters (AGPs).
Side-effects of antibiotic-driven cost minimising
This profoundly boosted animal productivity improved feed conversion ratios (FCRs) and safeguarded animal health. Yet, they also led to a multitude of issues. Perhaps the most immediate one is the temptation to over-economise. Both in Asia and the west, this latter abuse of traditional supplements led to disastrous outcomes for both human and animal welfare.
Moreover, cost abuses involving antibiotic-driven cost minimization is most especially prevalent in Asia: By using overdoses of antibiotics, livestock could be raised more cheaply by overcrowding animal pens. Antibiotics held at bay diseases that inevitably accompany overcrowding, making it possible to produce more meat without making additional investments in land. And it should be noted that this occurs in aquaculture as much as it does with land animals.
Asia, with scarcer land resources than either Europe or America's had a greater economic incentive to abuse these substances than any other part of the world. Of course, meat quality was affected and that eventually led to bans on everything from Vietnamese fish to Chinese pork.
On the supplement side, many first generation mineral supplements eventually contaminated waterways with heavy metals. Others left highly carcinogenic traces in the meat or fish meant for human consumption.
Intuitively, everyone knows that all this unsustainable and that nature eventually wins. Yet, for over half a century, profit margins were supported on the backs of dirty, overcrowded animals, adulterated meat, exotic new pathogens and an increasingly poisoned environment. Eventually, everywhere from the EU to South Korea, these concerns led to bans on everything from antibiotics as AGPs to toxic metal concentrations in waste water.
Organic trace minerals: Better performance, less pollution
Fortunately, thanks to the introduction of strict EU livestock supplement laws, a new generation of low dose, yet highly productive organically based trace minerals has been developed. When organic trace minerals were used, better animal performance could be achieved at half the mineral dosage. Moreover, due to the animal intestine's higher uptake of such organic minerals, less heavy metal pollution was discharged into lakes and rivers.
B. Fuchs, U. Geier and P.Schlegel from Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Science in Wroclaw, Poland stated that, "Reducing copper, manganese and zinc supplementation and using up to half organic trace minerals in gestating and lactating sows did not negatively affect either their performance or that of their offspring." On the contrary; with improved protein utilisation acting as the causal mechanism, "Chelate and Glycinate even increased (P<0.05) sow successful insemination rates 30 days after farrowing the piglets being studied."
Organic acidifiers boost performance
Nor are organic trace minerals the only innovation frontier. In the race to replace AGPs with something more natural, organic acidifiers are being as replacements for many antibiotics. Christian LÃ¼ckstÃ¤dt, technical director at ADDCON Asia wrote that, "The use of acidifiers in diets for pigs of all ages has been demonstrated to be effective in achieving this goal, as demonstrated in trials at universities and at farms." Just like AGPs, they raise FCRs while minimising the rate of infection â€“without creating dangerous long-term human health issues.
Essential oils highly antibacterial
However, no part of this emerging natural livestock supplement paradigm holds more promise than the field of essential herbal oils. Everything from chilies to lemon grass, oregano to the butyric acid found in butter has been found to possess antibiotic-like and AGP-like properties â€“without antibiotic-linked risk of bacterial immunity, chemical toxicity or the evolution of dangerous new pathogens.
For example, according to a study by Meridien Animal Health Limited, "Essential oils extracted from oregano can play a significant role in preventing and mitigating the effects of coccidiosis in ruminants, thereby maintaining their productivity in dairy production or for animal protein purposes."
Through osmosis, oregano extracts create a water imbalance within the bacterial cell wall, thereby inducing its death. Curiously, this is exactly the mode of action by which many antibiotics kill bacteria. Fortunately, herbal based substances do not create issues of toxicity, bacterial mutation or poisoning people.
Interestingly, unlike the antibiotics they replace, essential oils allow a remnant of bacterial and fungal spores to survive in ruminant intestines, thereby stimulating an immune response. This gives livestock an opportunity to build up strong, natural resistance to diseases, which is the exact opposite of what occurs when AGPs are used.
Similarly, common spices such as thyme oil and rosemary have been found to have similar properties, against different bacteria and through their own unique causal pathways. According to Natalia Di Roth, technical manager at BIOMIN GMBH, butyric acid, which is naturally found in butter, has similar AGP-like qualities. In a study conducted by BIOMIN, butyric acid's qualities are further enhanced when combined with caprylic and capric acids, which also naturally occur in butter.
According to Roth, "Butyric acid is also known as antibacterial agent against pathogenic microorganisms including salmonella, clostridia, Escherichia coli [E-coli], brachyspira, etc." Best of all, unlike chemical antibiotics, many of these essential oils promote, rather than destroy, healthy intestinal bacteria. Roth adds that, "Butyric acid also enhances the reparation of gut wall lesions caused by intestinal diseases and nutritional imbalances. Moreover butyrate stimulates gastric secretion (Katoh and Tsudo 1984), thereby improving protein and fat digestibility."
Investing in quality or quantity?
In truth, there is a very important difference between today's natural supplements and the earlier generation of synthetic chemicals. Traditional additives are more useful with respect to achieving quick, easy cost savings. On the other hand, this new generation of natural supplements lend themselves more to raising the quality of meat. They are a long-term investment but in cost-sensitive context, they are often misperceived as expenses.
- And Asia's agribusiness mindset tends to lean more towards minimising costs. That undermines the entire natural supplement model and makes it a hard sell in Asia. This can especially be seen in China, where misuse of leading edge technologies failed to raise the quality of milk and other products (see Pg24: "From Quantity to Quality: Opportunities & Challenges in China's next decade of agribusiness transformation")
Hence, while evidence that natural supplements are more effective continues to mount, their use requires a change in the values of both Asian livestock farmers and consumers. In our survey, we examine the ways various Asian countries are reconciling themselves to this ascending sustainable supplement paradigm.
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