The global antibiotic challenge
Nutreco partners to solve the global antibiotic challenge through integrated cooperation across the feed-to-food chain
by Nutreco, the Netherlands
The feed-to-food chain is currently facing a serious issue as the overuse of antibiotics in farming comes ever closer to a causing a global health crisis. Their improper use is leading to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that is becoming a major threat to human health.
'It's an issue that every player in the food chain needs to take seriously — and we need to work together to solve,' said Rob Koremans, CEO of Nutreco, a global animal nutrition and aqua feed company.
'As a company, Nutreco is committed to finding new methods to grow healthy animals without the use of antibiotics, in partnership with our customers and others in the industry, and we are making strides every day.'
'If we don't change our farming methods, the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is set to become a major human health crisis,' says Nutreco Corporate Sustainability Director José Villalón.
'The World Health Organisation (WHO) is predicting that if no action is taken today, by the year 2050, more people are estimated to die of bacterial infections due to resistant bacteria than of cancer.
'The WHO anticipates that up to 10 million people will die each year because of AMR compared to eight million, due to cancer. This is the principle health risk that our children and grandchildren will be facing in their lifetimes', Mr Villalón says.
Mr Villalón stressed that there is an urgent need for all players in the food chain to play their part in solving this issue — and it can be done if we work together.
'The problem with antibiotic use on the farm is not one of use, it's one of abuse,' said Otto Seijler, General Manager at Nutreco company Trouw Nutrition Hifeed. 'Antibiotics are useful tools for treating sick animals, but the problem comes in when they're used prophylactically, something that is unfortunately still a common protocol in animal husbandry.
'When we see antibiotics used prophylactically on a farm, it's often covering up poor farm management, that leads to increased stress and disease in farmed animals,' says Mr Seijler.
Antibiotics are also used to address poor nutrition and stimulate improved growth performance.
'All of this misuse can be significantly reduced or eliminated by a holistic approach to farm management combined with functional health diets and better animal nutrition.'
Solving the problem
Nutreco and its divisions, Trouw Nutrition and Skretting, are putting a major focus on addressing this problem by helping customers improve how they manage their farms.
Mr Seijler said that a focus on early life nutrition can have a significant impact on reducing the need for antibiotics.
Nutreco is working with customers all over the world, to educate them on the dangers of antibiotics and how to manage their farms better and improve animal health. The first step is to build awareness.
'There is still a widespread lack of knowledge about the severity of the problem,' said Mr Seijler. It's also about creating a sense of responsibility among the top leadership of professional farms and integrators.
'We need to educate customers about the urgency to act and how it can even be a differentiator for them. Animal production is an extremely competitive business and producers need to be able to see the advantage for their business. So, we work with them to create a new value proposition and communicate to their customers why it's worth paying extra for products raised without antibiotics.'
Once the producer is on board, Nutreco sends a team to the farm to analyse the situation and determine where positive changes can be made.
'First, we study the environment, auditing the general bio security and looking at things, like whether the proper ventilation is in place,' said Mr Seijler.
'We check the water quality, because gut health is very important in creating stronger animals that are resistant to disease, so we need to prevent infections from coming in via the water system. And finally, we analyse the feeding systems to make sure the animals are getting optimal nutrition.'
Mr Seijler described a customer in the Middle East that recently went through this process.
The customer had already been looking to differentiate better in their market, and the team from Trouw Nutrition Hifeed helped them to see that they could produce a product that was perceived as healthier for families. Trouw Nutrition Hifeed even went to talk to local retailers and fast food chains, to educate them about the problem and help build a market for the product.
'Ultimately, the customer boosted market share by six percent, and even more importantly, achieved a 12 percent rise in fresh market share. Our teams cooperate on the farms consistently throughout the year, to ensure that the farmer or integrator is receiving the support they need,' he said.
'We believe this is the future – we do not accept that antibiotics will be the next cancer and want to do everything we can to prevent that.'
To succeed, however, will require partnering across the food chain.
'The issue of AMR is a significantly important and complex one,' says Mr Villalón. 'It cannot be resolved by one entity alone. There needs to be global alignment across the industry and the geographies.'
He said there have been successes already in certain national industries, such as Norway, which has nearly eliminated antibiotic use in farmed salmon in the last decade and the Netherlands, where governmental regulation and multi-stakeholder commitments between 2006 and 2009 led to a 63 percent drop in its usage in poultry.
'But, eliminating the health threat to the global population at large can only be done if the entire global industry abides by reform and adopting the animal nutrition and best practices technologies to reduce use and eliminate abuse.'
Nutreco contributes to the global effort by aligning with the WHO One Health programme, collaborating with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) — which works to raise awareness on AMR and advise nations on building biosecurity protocols — and leading the discussion on this topic in the International Feed Industry Federation (IFIF).
'Animal nutrition is our expertise. It's what we live and breathe every day, and as a major company we feel we have a significant contribution to make,' says Mr Koremans.
'You cannot be a serious industry player and look the other way on such a critical issue as the AMR challenge. The 'call to action' has been raised, so as a responsible industry we need to work together to address the issue with practical and effective solutions.'