The importance of feed additives for sustainable animal farming, animal health and welfare

Feed additives are ingredients added in very small quantities to animal feed (in the range of milligrammes per kilogramme) to exert specific important functions. Some of these ingredients are essential nutrients, which means that animals cannot synthesise them by themselves and will thus be deficient in these essential nutrients if not included in their diet. Examples are vitamins, carotenoids, amino acids (constituents of proteins), salts and minerals. Feed additives can also improve feed properties by enhancing their nutritional value, flavour, and texture and help conserve their quality, freshness, and wholesomeness.

Nourishment is not the only function feed additives exert to preserve and support animals’ health and welfare. Some ingredients, such as flavourings and colourants, can stimulate the animals’ appetites during delicate periods (like with people), for example, during weaning. Other feed additives, such as probiotics, help maintain the balance of the intestinal microflora (as with people), which has been scientifically demonstrated to boost their immune system. Overall, these functions strengthen animal health and reduce the potential to succumb to harmful micro-organisms and become sick.

Feed additives can also improve the handling and hygiene characteristics of feed. Most important is conserving the quality and nutritional value of the feed, which contributes to the quality of the final animal products. Farm animals need safe, nutritious, wholesome, and good-quality feed to produce healthy human food.

Last but not least, there is growing recognition of the importance of feed additives in improving the sustainability of animal farming because they can reduce the environmental footprint, including the emission of greenhouse gases and phosphorus.

An ingredient must undergo a meticulous technical and scientific evaluation to be allowed on the EU market as a feed additive. The comprehensive assessments undertaken by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) ensure that all feed additives are safe not only for the animals themselves but also for those workers and users handling the feed, the consumers of animal products, and the environment.

Not using feed additives would have severe negative consequences for the animals, the environment and consumers of animal products. In most cases, a world without feed additives would mean a need to use even more ingredients to secure adequate nutrition. In addition to dealing with the consequences of supplying an excess of feed which could lead to overeating and sickness, this would imply using more land, water and energy, thereby increasing the environmental footprint linked to raising animals.

In summary, sustainable farming requires feed additives that improve the animals’ digestion, resulting in a greater feed conversion ratio for more efficient land, water and energy use. It also secures better hygiene characteristics (wholesomeness), preserving feed quality and safety and optimising its nutritional content. Feed additives are essential to meeting the animals’ functional and nutritional needs and maintaining their health and welfare. Please watch the short animated videos of FEFANA explaining the contribution of Specialty Feed Ingredients to animal welfare, sustainable animal farming, and the fight against antimicrobial resistance.