Lucta: Making fishmeal alternatives better than the real deal

In a LinkedIn post from Lucta last year, the company interestingly said that feed additives could be beneficial for improving palatability and functionality of fish diets, especially when dietary fishmeal is replaced by plant-based protein sources. eFeedLink speaks to Lucta to find out more about this growing trend.

eFeedLink: From a broader perspective across species, what is Lucta's view on the use of feed additives and more specifically some palatability enhancers in animal nutrition when plant-based diets are becoming more commonplace?

Lucta: The last decades have seen an important diversification in plant ingredients that are available, with an increasing focus on local sourcing, and enormous progress in their technological processing to obtain safer (with reduced levels of anti-nutritional factors and mycotoxins) and more digestible ingredients. This has enabled the formulation of high quality and nutritious plant-based diets, solving many of the early issues associated with the use of these raw materials.

However, depending on the specific formulation and farmed species, plant-based diets still present lower palatability than animal-based, particularly marine ingredient-rich, feeds. In standard grow-out conditions, most animals adapt to lower palatability feeds with no major difficulties or loss in production. Nevertheless, in challenging circumstances (e.g., when animals are subjected to management or environmental-related stressors), a lower physiological motivation to eat can be worsened by low feed palatability, accentuating losses in feed intake, reducing growth and impacting disease susceptibility.

Finally, in some parts of the world there is still a strong embedded belief within farmers that a high quality aquaculture feed is one that contains very high levels of marine-based ingredients, and hence the sensory profile of the diet can play a significant part in the farmer's choice of feeds. In this context, feed flavours can have an important role, at least in some niche markets, to modulate the sensory profile of high plant diets.

More specifically, what are some industry trends Lucta is seeing in the use of feed additives and palatability enhancers?

Improving sustainability of feeds and animal welfare continue to be industry trends and are at the centre of R&D and product development in Lucta. Furthermore, having also a business area dedicated to the production of food flavours, traceability and safety has long been a centrepiece in Lucta's activities. In the feed safety area, for instance, an issue that has recently heavily affected the whole feed industry was the ethoxyquin suspension. Finding alternatives to ethoxyquin has been a complex challenge, considering the high cost-effectiveness of this molecule, but one that Lucta was able to tackle successfully. In face of this suspension and of other trends (e.g., an increasingly higher awareness of the potential microbiological and mycotoxicological contamination of feeds), a growing perception of the central importance of ensuring an optimal feed preservation is being noted, giving a new impetus to technological additives.

Maybe one of the most important trends, linked to the sustainability issue, is the rising availability of alternative protein and oil ingredients (e.g., a wide variety of microbial meals, insect meals and oils, algal meals and oils, etc.) and growing interest in circular economy and the enhanced use of by-products. These new and 'recycled' ingredients can bring some specific requirements when considering their incorporation into animal feeds. This can involve specific issues with the need to stabilise them from an oxidative or microbiological point of view, to problems with lowered feed palatability or important changes in the sensory profile of feeds, or to help prevent significant metabolic or body composition (affecting final product quality) changes in farmed animals being fed these novel alternative feeds.

Another clear trend is the rising demand for 'natural' products, and still small but growing requirements for organic ingredients. This imposes new, important challenges with the sourcing of certified and reliable raw materials in a sector where fraud is not uncommon, while trying to keep costs controlled. In this respect, the feed sector is still slowly rising behind more prevalent tendencies in the food flavours sector, but the requirements for rigorous sourcing, traceability and analytical control will eventually be shared between these two sectors.

Under the current COVID-19 environment, feed mills and farms are very concerned about their immediate production costs and bottom line. What additional value can they gain from using Lucta's products and services?

COVID-19 clearly accentuated pre-existing trends to use resources in an increasingly strategic, efficient and financially clever way, while meeting the final consumer's expectations for safer, more sustainable and welfare-sensitive animal products.

In this context, palatability has a more relevant importance than meets the eye. It is common knowledge that taste receptors are not just in the oral cavity influencing taste preferences, but are also present in several other tissues such as the gastrointestinal tract in many animal species, including fish. In humans and terrestrial farmed animals it has been widely demonstrated that specific palatability enhancers activate gut taste receptors, initiating several mechanisms that co-ordinately regulate satiety, digestion, nutrient absorption and metabolism, ensuring a coordinated response to diet composition (what is commonly known as "gut sensing"). Lucta has been a pioneer in implementing this concept in animal nutrition, and is now at the forefront of generating similar knowledge in fish species, to explore applications in aquaculture. This extensive experience and know-how across farmed species is used to develop specific palatability enhancers as an additional tool that nutritionists can use to help the animal get more out of their formulation, by ensuring maximal feeding efficiency (digestive and absorptive efficiency) and metabolic use of nutrients.

Beyond palatability, Lucta has privileged access to high quality bioactive raw materials and compounds. Many of these are increasingly recognised in feed applications, in the context of the rising demand for natural solutions to help tackle the issue of drastically reducing antimicrobial usage in food-producing animals, improving farmed animal welfare by increasing their resilience/immune competence and reducing oxidative and metabolic stress, and to aid boosting metabolic sparing mechanisms to conserve crucial nutrients (e.g., "omega-3" fatty acids) while using strategic ingredients (e.g., fish oil) more judiciously. All these are areas of intense research and product development in Lucta, in many cases in direct collaboration with different stakeholders and end-users as a way to develop solutions addressing specific problems and creating value that is relevant to the industry.

Commercial aquaculture species of importance are quite different in Asia, as compared to the Western world, and local, alternative feed ingredients are often used. What work might Lucta be doing to better serve customer requirements specific to the Asia region?

Lucta has an Innovation department in China, which is a clear recognition of the strategic importance of the Asia region to Lucta, and a strongpoint to support specific requirements of clients in the region. Although strongly coordinated and in line with R&D concepts and products being developed globally from the headquarters in Spain (supported by the commercial and technical teams in the different subsidiaries across the globe), the Innovation department in China conducts its R&D activities through collaborations with local universities and research centres, and in close contact with the local commercial teams. This guarantees that new developments are adapted to local market and customer needs, taking into account differences in feed ingredients, species, production methods, climate, legislation, governmental requirements and consumer awareness.

What other updates might Lucta wish to share with our readers, looking ahead into 2021?

Lucta will continue into 2021 with full commitment to R&D, promoting the development of new products and strategies in order to offer cost-effective solutions in the new framework when dietary fishmeal is replaced by plant-based, novel or local/"recycled" ingredients. Further investments in innovation will ensure the added value necessary to continue providing solutions to the aquaculture sector and supporting the implementation of new nutritional strategies to achieve maximum performance. This is the challenging target which has become key for Lucta Group.

(From left) Sofia Morais, Lucta Innovation Development Manager and
Rui Alexandre Gonçalves, Lucta Aquaculture Innovation Manager and Business Development Specialist

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