In-feed antibiotics will be banned when US federal guidelines fully take effect on 1 January 2017. Stopping the subtherapeutic use of antimicrobials, that can account for up to 3% of extra weight gain and disguise many potential problems, will cost profit. Poultry producers are trying to find replacement additives and delve into management measures.
After many years of fierce debate, the US is moving towards an era where the use of antibiotics in animal production will be limited. Under pressure of consumer demand some producers even go so far as stopping the use of all antibiotics that are important to human medicine such as fluoroquinolones. Tyson Foods, like other producers Purdue and Pilgrim’s Pride, has made steps to reduce the use of drugs of human importance.
Together these companies produce about a third of the US chicken supply. It’s part of a trend that has seen restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle, Panera, and Chick-fil-A pledge to go antibiotic-free. However, mainstream producers will have to comply with federal guidelines for in-feed antibiotics as a minimum.
In the US, feed animals are routinely fed low doses of antibiotics through their water or food troughs to promote growth and expedite weight gain. Many of the antibiotics used in animal production are identical or closely related to those used to prevent infections among humans, including tetracyclines, macrolides, bacitracin, penicillin’s and sulfonamides. The danger lies in the fact that the use of antibiotics in agricultural animals contributes to the development of resistant bacterial infections in humans. Seen from the other side of the spectrum; in 2006, the EU banned all antibiotics for growth promotion purposes. Following introduction of these measures, there was a decrease in the levels of antibiotic resistance found in farm animals and within the general human population.
The quest now, and during the IPPE in particular, is to mitigate the economic damage of stepping away from antibiotic growth promotors. Knowledge and experience from Europe and South America shows that moving away from antibiotic growth promotors and without adapting anything can cost up to 20% of efficiency and growth performance. “Mitigating the damage takes a holistic approach involving all parts of the poultry production chain, from breeders, hatchery to broiler farm,” says Fernando Rutz of Alltech. The starting point of a successful operation is a healthy broiler chick. That is the opinion of Scott Sechler, owner of Bell & Evans hatchery. He just purchased a 1.6 million chicks a week Hatchcare hatchery from Hatchtech, with early feed and water in the hatchers. “We want to feed the chicks as early as we can and remove as much stress from the process as we can to deliver the best possible chick. Only with the best chicks has one the lead way to make the difference,” according to Sechler.
Clinical associate professor at the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center, University of Georgia, Dr Stephen Collett, discussed how to manage microbiota of the chick in the broiler farm through the ‘feed, seed and weed’ approach and the critical steps to take in controlling coccidiosis, histomoniasis and cochlosoma without antibiotics during Alltech’s annual breakfast meeting. Collett’s programme to rehabilitate and accelerate the evolution of the intestinal microbiota involves seeding the gut with favourable organisms, feeding the favourable organisms and weeding out the unfavourable organisms. When it comes to disease challenges such as coccidiosis, histomoniasis and cochlosoma, Collett recommends a combination essential oil product, and a type-1 fimbriae blocker, and he has seen the same results as when using a coccidial control product.
Research at Cargill supports the idea of combining essential oils with organic acids to get maximum efficacy on improving gut health in poultry to promote feed efficiency and keep birds healthy. Cargill has been researching the use of non-medicated feed additives for several years as an alternative to antibiotic growth promoters. While all additives studied showed some benefit in optimising the gut, Cargill researchers found that selected essential oil compounds, particularly those derived from thyme, cinnamon and oregano, had the most comprehensive effect on overall gut health. The research also showed that essential oils are just one facet of a feeding programme that promotes ideal gut health and allows antibiotic reduction. “Cargill’s local nutrition experts are working directly with poultry producers to develop customised, holistic feeding programmes encompassing nutrition, additives and farm management based on the study results,” says Twan Van Gerwe, poultry R&D director in Cargill’s animal nutrition business.
At Delacon CEO Markus Dedl sees an enormous quest for knowledge. “Our mission is to share the knowledge about how to produce the best without the use of antibiotics. A whole set of technologies will have to come together to make it work. That is why we teamed up with PMI nutritional additives, which will be our exclusive partner in the US for phytogenic feed additives. As the global feed industry seeks antibiotic-free feeding programmes, our cooperation comes at a critical time of transition.” Dedl: “We not only want to participate in this opportunity, but we want to advance animal nutrition and help lead the industry into the future.”
Dr Stephen Collett summarises: “Changing the paradigm of 60 years of antibiotic use is quite difficult. Development is quite slow, but what I’ve seen in the last year, the industry has picked up phenomenally.” Poultry producers are making big steps, but there is still a distance to go.