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The 2016 World Nutrition Forum: Driving the protein economy towards a new horizon
 
Inflammation and metagenomics, adjective marketing and 21st century home cooking, phytogenics vs. AGPs: An end-to-end examination of the forces shaking up global agribusiness.
 
By ERIC J. BROOKS

 
 
Held in Vancouver, Canada from October 12th through the 15th and attended by over 700 academics and researchers, BIOMIN's 2016 World Nutrition Forum was the first time this by-invitation-only conference convened in North America. Titled "Driving The Protein Economy", this year's event could just as easily have been named, "the new protein economy", for everywhere one looked, radical change was underway.
 
BIOMIN founder Dr. Erich Erber opened proceedings by presenting, "The 3 S's To Address Future Global Challenges: Science, Service and Speed." In Erber's vision, scientific discoveries fuel innovations that push livestock productivity to ever higher levels. Encompassing everything from technical assistance to the sharing of scientific findings, services transform new products into superior animal performance.
 
--But all of the above must be done at a faster speed, even though new technologies make doing so riskier than before. For example, Adrian Moss, managing director of Focus Business Communications traced how –despite using time-tested, mainstream media methods in responding to allegations of 'pink slime'—social media chatter destroyed a billion dollar beef trimming supplier's entire market value in less than two weeks.
 
The Economist recently had a front cover on antibiotic resistance stating, "The drugs don't work." That may be true, but apparently, neither do other traditional agribusiness assumptions, or in some cases, even trusted public relations techniques. Erber's 3S's are a rational attempt at managing the chaos that inevitably accompanies radical transformations.
 
For example, David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing at London's Imperial College, described powerful megatrends threats to the traditional protein economy. Hughes noted that in British homes, "Meal preparation time went from 90 minutes in 1950 to 30 minutes in 2015" –and with 42% of in-house meals eaten alone, the 'ready-to-eat' meals of 21st century 'home cooking' bear no resemblance to what our parents ate. He concluded that, "We used to go to supermarkets to buy ingredients. We now go to supermarkets to buy a meal solution." Consequently, "eating out and eating in are becoming one and the same."
 
For Hughes, such trends threaten not only protein economy suppliers but even our idea of what constitutes 'protein': With 'flexitarian' (non-meat protein) diets becoming increasingly popular, the fastest growing beverage lines are "non-dairy dairy products" such as almond milk or soybean drink. Quorn, a company worth US$831 million, successfully markets processed fungal mycoproteins that mimic chicken meat. 
 
In America, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat offer allegedly 'green, healthy' plant based hamburgers containing over 20g of protein. Pink coloured, many consumers cannot differentiate them from real beef –in a country where minced beef makes up half of that meat line's consumption. Similarly, the success of Hampton Creek's eggless, pea protein-based mayonnaise motivated Unilever to launch a competing, vegetable-based product.
 
Hughes observed that, "animals will face increasing pressure from non-meat proteins which will be capable of competing on taste, price and their 'green' credentials". Consequently, for meat to resist commoditization, it must be labelled, 'antibiotic free', 'free range', 'herb fed', 'sustainably raised' –or in the case of pork sold to educated Thai consumers, 'happy'. He concluded that, "When it comes to their meat, consumers want adjectives added  –not additives added."? If he is correct, it implies that the way we raise livestock needs to be radically redesigned.
 
Thereafter, the rest of the conference dealt with the technical challenges of reconciling safe, environmentally friendly livestock farming with high animal productivity. In that vein, the first day's afternoon was devoted to breakout sessions dedicated to optimization of swine, poultry, ruminant and aquaculture in a sustainable, natural manner.
 
Ian Lean, former president of the Australian Association of Cattle Veterinarians and Duarte Diaz, associate professor at the University of Arizona explored various causation mechanisms by which mycotoxins impact cattle productivity. By comparison, Michigan State University professor Mike VandeHaar demonstrated that alongside introducing new feed and management practices, we must, "Take advantage of new genomic tools to increase feed efficiency."
 
Gerard Manfreda, from Italy's University of Bologna shared findings on the interactions and causation mechanisms between probiotics, broiler performance and gut microbiota, particularly those found in the caecum. Manfreda also demonstrated that concurrent supplementation of lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria and protease supplementation achieved significantly higher broiler performance levels than either one on their own. In deeply technical explanations of issues such as antibiotic resistant salmonella outbreaks, leaky gut syndrome, genetic optimization, probiotics, phytogenics and mycotoxin mitigation, the challenge of transcending yesteryear's simpler, antibiotic-based growth paradigm was revealed.
 
Swine's breakout session was if anything, even more focused on improving gastrointestinal health than its poultry counterpart. Interactions between swine genetics, intestinal flora, immune response, mycotoxins, natural supplements, feed conversion and hog performance took centre stage.
 
Jae Cheol Kim, professor at Murdoch University's School of Veterinary and Life Sciences shared that compared to unstressed swine, pigs under continual immune system challenges, "Showed reduced body protein deposition by 26% to 28%. Kim's findings dovetail with research showing that antibiotics promote growth via their anti-inflammatory properties rather than commonly assumed antimicrobial effects. All this implies that using AGPs to boost stocking densities could be far less profitable than commonly assumed.
 
The advantages of enzymatic detoxification of mycotoxins (relative to toxin binding) also repeatedly came up. When it did, so did technical details of the investments in genomic mapping, fermentation technology development and scale production capability that will be required to get fungal toxins under control.
 
Moreover, with aqua feed's composition moving from fishmeal to plant-based feed materials, mycotoxin-induced weak immunity, compromised gut health and disease outbreaks are becoming increasingly common. Due to their cold-blooded nature, the metabolism of both fish and their intestinal microbes fluctuates with water temperatures.
 
Furthermore, Daniel Merrifield, fish health and nutrition lecturer at Plymouth University, states that even a slight change in water chemistry can magnify or mitigate the impact of a temperature change. Consequently, repeating an aqua feed supplementation experiment sometimes produces radically different fish performance outcomes, as "their metabolism and the metabolism of their microbiota is heavily dependent on environmental conditions".
 
Mycotoxins, also keynoted the morning of this conference's second day. Christopher Elliot from Queens University in Belfast, Ireland, noted an odd paradox: While our understanding of them has grown immensely over the last two decades, "There is a great shortage of information that describes how mycotoxins work." He did however, concur with BIOMIN's focus on researching enzymatic means of mycotoxin neutralization, stating that, "One of the great innovations in mycotoxin control is not to bind them but in finding ways to degrade them". Noting that 1 gram of soil contains 10 million bacterial genomes, Elliot believes that innovative enzymatic mycotoxin degradation methods are literally beneath our feet.
 
He was followed by speakers who expounded on various facets of the challenges created by fungal toxins. The University of Georgia's Todd Applegate explained several means by which various fungal toxins impair gastro-intestinal functioning. Rudolf Krska from Vienna, Austria's University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences explained how they impact livestock metabolism, implying that we will discover not just, "masked and emerging mycotoxins coming to the fore", but also new causation mechanisms. 
 
Having provided mechanisms by which they compromise animal performance, Wulf-Dieter Mull, Head of BIOMIN's Austrian R&D centre, outlined a road map for producing enzymatic mycotoxin solutions. It entails, "Cloning the gene for a newly discovered enzyme that can catabolize [a particular fungi's] mycotoxin, develop a fermentation process, then build it out to a large scale for mass production." –and then repeating the entire process for all the other known mycotoxins. BIOMIN has the distinction of creating the first enzyme-based mycotoxin solution but Mull notes that, "We have a long way to go before we can make enzymatic solutions for [all] mycotoxins".
 
Mull also inferred the conference's most fascinating insight into the relationship between fungal toxins and the protein economy: "When I asked myself 'what do mycotoxins have to do with the protein economy?' I realized that some mycotoxins are right at its heart. Deoxynivalenol inhibits transcription within the eukaryotic ribosome. That shows that Deoxynivalenol literally interferes with protein synthesis. Aflatoxin has a similar blocking effect on mRNA's template, interfering with transcription. This shows how these mycotoxins are literally putting a spanner in the middle of the protein economy and even protein synthesis itself."
 
Thereafter, Theo A. Niewold, health and nutrition professor at Belgium's University of Leuven presented a novel thought into why antibiotics accelerate livestock growth even when intestinal pathogens are 100% resistant to them. Deconstructing livestock immune systems into a 70% passive mucosal constituent and 30% systemic/reactive component, the latter is highly prone to inducing inflammation –with mounting research pointing to, "A tradeoff between immunity and growth."
 
Immune system-induced inflammation is known to reduce appetite, trigger muscle (a.k.a. meat) catabolism, generate excess abdominal fat and induce high pathogen populations. Through such causation pathways, Niewold estimates that full scale antibody production pinches livestock growth by 3%, while inflammation can result in a whopping 30% growth reduction.
 
Surprisingly, it is antibiotics' mitigation of inflammation –not their antimicrobial properties– which enhance animal growth. Evidence for this lies in the fact that both antibiotics and anti-inflammatory compounds known to promote growth without killing bacteria (eg. Aspirin) share similar OMICs parameters and have the same anti-inflammatory biomarkers. Niewold concluded that by testing for the presence of anti-inflammatory biomarkers, non-antibiotic growth promoters could be identified and substituted in place of existing antibiotic supplementation.
 
Alessandra De Cesare, a researcher and professor at the University of Bologna's department of agricultural and food sciences, explained the power of a metagenomics gene sequencing approach to deconstructing interactions between feed content, microbes, fungi, animal performance, supplements and human diseases. Whether it is determining why animals are getting sick, tracing the origin of antibiotic resistant human infections or determining livestock growth potential, "Gene sequencing allows to trace the most active metabolic pathways."
 
According to De Cesare, an inventoried analysis of genetic relationships between microbes and their hosts will spawn synergistic benefits: "By identifying genes and virulence pathways and the interaction with environmental changes, metagenomics could be used to predict disease susceptibility, drug response and potentially inform genetic selection, thereby reducing the cost of vaccines and antibiotics." From a human health perspective, "if we don't check all the reservoirs, we cannot know all the sources of antibiotic resistance."
 
De Cesare's findings were expanded upon by closing speaker Franz Waxenecker, director of BIOMIN'S R&D operations, who shared the implications of recent, genetic based findings. For example, while phytogenic compounds are able to boost protein production as well as antibiotics, they do have weaknesses that can be traced down to the genetic level.
 
For example, an animal will still yield insufficient or low quality meat if certain mycotoxin's block RNA's transcription of protein molecules. Similarly, the presence of DON is enough to make clostridium bacteria migrate from their usual poultry gut location, resulting in necrotic enteritis. While Waxenecker concurred with metagenomics findings and the seeking of natural anti-inflammatory compounds, he noted that anti-oxidants represent yet another natural growth supplement pathway.
 
By making further immune response unnecessary, do vaccines trade a short-term inflammatory response for less long-term inflammation? Similarly, while Waxenecker quoted well-known findings that in monogastric animals AGP growth boost has fallen from 7% in the mid-20th century to 2% today, another participant stated that AGPs had not suffered declining returns in cattle. Could this be due to a mitigating factor in the more complicated ruminant gut?
 
Near the conference's finale, BIOMIN managing director Hannes Binder declared that, "The conventional antibiotic growth promoter era has come to an end. We must move to new horizons." To get to that horizon, the science behind agribusiness faces an even more complicated road map than its customers.
 
Real science always invents new questions for every puzzle that it solves. As our understanding of livestock genetics, phytogenetics, metabolic pathways and growth promotion increases, so too does the complexity of technical challenges.
 
The 2016's World Nutrition Forum was based on real science, as it raised numerous, fascinating questions for every one of interesting innovations it reported. We look forward to hearing some of their answers in the conference's next edition, scheduled for Cape Town, South Africa in October 2018.
 
 
 
Biomin World Nutrition Forum

  

 

Date:               October 12 - 15, 2016

  

Venue:             Vancouver, Canada

  

Organiser:       Biomin

  

Tel:                  + 43 2782 803 0

  

Email:             organisation@worldnutritionforum.info

  

Website:         www.worldnutritionforum.info/en/home

  

Building on a decade of success since 2004 in Salzburg, the 2016 World Nutrition Forum will bring the expertise of BIOMIN and experts from across the world to the Western hemisphere in order to address some of the most important issues facing the industry.

 

These invitation-only biennial summits are consistently well rated by attendees. Each iteration draws upon the uniqueness of the location, speakers and participants while maintaining the highest quality standards for both content and organization. This held true for Salzburg, Vienna, Mayrhofen, Salzburg, Singapore and Munich.

 

The idea of sharing knowledge with customers, discussing current and future challenges in the food and feed industry and presenting solutions has made the World Nutrition Forum a key event in the industry calendar.


 

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