11 July 2009
During the 20th century our view on food has changed dramatically - from making sure we have enough food to having perfectly safe food. It is evident that feed additives have contributed to that development.
Today there is a large variety of different types of feed additives and the common denominator is that they are added to animal feed on purpose. It might be something that has a positive effect on the feed such as a preserving agent or antioxidant, or it has a direct or indirect effect on the health of the animal such as antibiotic replacers, vitamins, pro- or prebiotics or enzymes, but it might also be a coloring agent that adds color to the animal production, e.g. a coloring agent which makes egg yolk more yellow or salmon more pink.
Perstorp's feed additives
All of the feed additives we produce at Perstorp are antibacterial products, feed preservatives or silage additives. This means they are used in animal feed to support animal health, or to prevent feed from being damaged by bacteria, yeast and mould, or they are used for preservation of silage. These types of products are therefore directly linked to animal health and to animal feed safety because they keep the feed fresh and healthy until it is given to the animals. All animal feed, just like human food, is continuously exposed to attacks from mould and bacteria in the environment. Moulds and bacteria can flourish under the most divers circumstances. Microbes start growing wherever there is heat and moisture. Mould starts growing already at 4°C.
History of additives
Nowadays our products, like all feed additives, are subject to an extensive framework of rules and laws. Some consider these rules as intrusive while others feel they are safeguarding health. But how did we get to where we are today? A quick look back will give us the answers.
During the Second World War there were food shortages all around Europe. Many people starved and finding their daily food took up a lot of time. As soon as the war ended, food production in Europe entered an intensive phase of development. Authorities across the continent handed over different forms of farming subsidies to farmers to stimulate sustainable production.
Introduction of antibiotics
In 1928 Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, one of the first and most important antibiotics. During the war penicillin was frequently used and someone realized that if it worked on wounded soldiers it should work on sick pigs. And not only did the pigs get healthy, they grew better too. So much so that antibiotics were soon being used as much for the growth benefits as for the health benefits. Up to 1970 feed additives that promoted production were virtually synonymous with antibiotics.
However, eventually the bacteria started to fight back. The more they were exposed to antibiotics, the more they adapted. Finally they were completely resistant. But scientists did not give up; they just carried on discovering new antibiotics. When one antibiotic disappeared from the market because bacteria had developed resistance to it, a new one was waiting in line to take its place.
By the 1970s and 1980s animal feed supplies were secured in Europe and the focus moved to food that tasted better, was of good quality and contained the right balance of nutrients. Europeans had more time and money and could focus on more than just having a full stomach.
New threats in a new millennium
The first major food crises started around the beginning of the new millennium. The industry crammed large numbers of animals into small spaces, which contributed to diseases and hazards spreading across Europe. This led to the introduction of several infectious diseases like bird flu, swine flu and foot and mouth disease. At the same time some process related problems such as dioxins, melamine and BSE arose. Besides these 'dangers' there is still the threat of Salmonella and Campylobacter, flourishing very well in surroundings with a high animal density.
In a short period we had moved from focusing on food security to food safety. We no longer worried about access to food. What worried us now was the quality of the food, and that it was safe to eat.
There is always a considerable risk of infections. Bacteria are all around us, but some bacteria are more common in some places than others. The most common problems in food are Salmonella and Campylobacter. Both are common in chicken, although Salmonella is most common in eggs. If chicken and eggs are well cooked and not eaten raw then the bacteria are destroyed and you cannot be infected even if the actual food is contaminated. Even so, every year hundreds of thousands of people in Europe fall ill because they are infected with Salmonella or Campylobacter. Up to now they can be treated with antibiotics, but that might not always be an option.
Since 2000 further food crises have arisen and in Europe public confidence in food production began to falter as bacteria resistance strengthened. Meanwhile legislation concerning animal feed additives was almost 40 years old and subject to a large amount of changes, amendments and national exceptions. It was hard to follow. Furthermore, feed additives were appearing on the market that were not covered by any legislation.
In the next newsletter you can read more about Perstorp's contribution to Food Safety.