In light of the ongoing fears over swine flu, animal health is very much in the headlines. NGF talks to Erich Erber of Biomin, Hipra’s Javier Sanz and Tom van der Laan of Provimi to find out what the main risks and challenges are concerning animal health and what animal producers can do to ensure that's risks are kept to a minimum.
“Prevention technologies will certainly increase in the coming years in order to confer better protection to animals”
-Javier Sanz, HIPRA
How important is it for the overall wellbeing of the industry that companies like yours are able to respond quickly to emerging threats?
Erich Erber: From the past to the present day industry is facing different threats like avian influenza, salmonella, mycotoxins and now swine flu, which for sure won't be the last one. BIOMIN has cared for health in animal nutrition for over 25 years and offers the industry successful solutions in the fields of mycotoxin risk management, natural growth promotion and gut health. Especially these days BIOMIN closes ranks with its customers in order to identify their future needs and be able to offer the right solutions at the right time. We have been coping with these challenges for years now and we are confident that with a sustainable concept in animal production, the industry will overcome these threats.
Javier Sanz: New human flu type A is a very important matter nowadays, as the worldwide pandemic demonstrates. Until recently new human flu type A has been a subject mainly related to human health. However, depending on the flu epidemic, we cannot exclude the possibility that other species, such as pigs, can be affected.
In relation to swine flu, HIPRA is a member of ESNIP (European Surveillance Network for Influenza in Pigs), and we are prepared for this specific disease and can respond quickly if any emergency threat occurs in pigs.
Tom van der Laan: Animal health is influenced by many factors, such as animal genetics, farm management conditions, breeding conditions and feed. In the latter, the animal nutrition industry certainly has a role to play to ensure that it supplies consistent quality animal feeds, which have shown their bio-efficacy. Quality standards and processes in the animal feed industry further help to keep that part of the value chain under control, to ensure no sub-standard materials ever leave the feedmills. For this, good raw materials control is crucial.
What options are open to animal producers with regards to how they protect their stock? Are different delivery methods more suitable for different situations?
JS: Prevention technologies will certainly increase in the coming years in order to confer better protection to animals. Such methods will include improvements in nutrition, management, housing, production systems and vaccine methods, which should also take into account animal welfare.
At HIPRA one of our goals is to develop good vaccines to be able to confer protection against diseases. Today, when developing new products or technologies, we must look and understand the needs of society and farmers. In this way, any delivery system that improves management of animals, reducing their stress, or improves handling and time of administration, reducing labour costs, must be fully taken into consideration.
TvdL: Implementation of formal herd and flock health plans, developed in close collaboration with veterinary professionals, is integral to the prevention of disease on farms. These will usually specify suitable controls over the purchasing, storage and use of animal feedstuffs.
EE: Farm Management Methods like "Closed Herd Systems" or "All in - all out" and Feed Management Methods like "One Finished Feed Supplier" and a proper "Mycotoxin Risk Management" are essential tools to protect herds or flocks.
In addition to this, farmers have the means to protect the performance of the stock by providing the best nutrition possible.
The use of antibiotic growth promoters, as has been the case in the past in the EU, and is still common in many markets, was or is one method of protection, but this has obviously created resistances that would reduce the efficacy when humans are treated with these antibiotics.
Furthermore the sub-clinical level at which antibiotics are used in most cases, acts as a "mask" for farm management mistakes. Nowadays producers switch to natural growth promoters such as acidifier, probiotics or phytogenic products, which show the same efficiency as the antibiotic growth promoter (AGP) but without side effects such as increased resistances.
Worldwide we can see an increasing pressure from the consumer side for the reduction of AGP usage in feed formulations, such as lately in the US. BIOMIN's strong focus on gut health and long history in natural growth promoters support the health of the animals and allow them to achieve top performance in all economic parameters.
What are your key areas of focus at the moment? Are there particular health/nutrition challenges that you are currently devoting your energies towards?
TvdL: We see gut health as integral to overall animal health - after all, the gut wall is the interface between the animal and the outside world. It is essential to minimise exposure of the gut to parasites such as coccidia and toxins such as feed-borne mycotoxins or, in the case of ruminants, bacterial endotoxins produced in a mis-managed rumen.
We're also working to improve the management of oxidative stress where the feed industry's traditional reliance on a narrow range of few antioxidant nutrients is proving inadequate.
EE: The in-house BIOMIN R&D department develops effective and efficient solutions for the specific needs of our customers. BIOMIN is the world leading company in mycotoxin risk management and through the Mycofix product line offers a very efficient and complete solution for the different production requirements. BIOMIN also has a strong focus on gut health. The gut is the centre of the immune system and therefore having a healthy gut is key for top performance. Over 20 years experience in the field of natural growth promotion, conclude with groundbreaking innovations in the field of probiotics and phytogenics. BIOMIN also proves its innovation capability in the field of acidifiers with its new product line. The increasing consumer demands on food entitle BIOMIN's focus on the natural growth promoter concept and our striving for new challenges like coccidiostatica for instance.
Another important focus of BIOMIN is the B.R.A.I.N. Program (BIOMIN Research And Innovation Network), which brings together cooperation between more than 80 universities and research institutes worldwide.
JS: HIPRA's focus is not just improving animal health and welfare, but also all the aspects, which might affect human health. For instance, HIPRA is now highly involved in dairy cows' mastitis prevention, due to the European launching of Startvac, the first mastitis vaccine approved in Europe throughout a centralized procedure. The new vaccine is a very relevant tool for the veterinarians and farmers, but is also an improvement in human food safety, due to the reduction of antibiotic use in dairy cows.
In the few months since we registered the vaccine in the EU, we have been receiving extremely positive feedback from vets of different EU markets, who have already started to implement Startvac in their routine vaccination schedule. Reported data shows that Startvac is achieving a reduction in clinical mastitis and has a direct impact on milk yield. A marked reduction on antibiotic usage to treat clinical mastitis is being observed. Consequently, we are convinced that Startvac will be shortly recognised as a highly valuable product in the milk industry.
How do you see the animal health/nutrition space developing over the coming years? Does a growing interest in organic farming pose a threat to both your business and general levels of animal health?
EE: The animal health/nutrition business will grow in the near future and we will see an increase in the restrictive usage of antibiotics in feeds. Besides growing in size and volume, due to a growing world population, the demand for more effective solutions to specific challenges will become more demanding. Aside from commercial farming, the organic farm segment will grow too. But in this production system the challenge to overcome the infection risk, such as that of salmonella, is a question that will need to be resolved. There are challenges ahead but BIOMIN will deal with them and strive to bring new natural and innovative solutions for the animal industry, as our company objective is to "care for health in animal nutrition".
JS: Talking about animal health, the situation in the EU is really different from the rest of the world. Answering your question we should be able to distinguish between "industrial farming" and "organic farming".
Organic farming production will progressively increase. Clearly, there is a place in our society for such product demand. Therefore, logically, more and more farmers will find a place for organic farming. However, organic farming will not be able to supply all of the protein requested by our society. Obviously both types of production systems will have their place on the market. We do not see organic farming as a threat for the pharmaceutical industry. Moreover, this is an area of opportunities for us to offer our knowledge or products in any prophylactic programme if required.
Referring to industrial farming, new EU regulations in terms of food safety or animal welfare are changing the microbial environment of these farms. For instance, in pig production, new EU animal welfare regulations to stall the sows in free-range systems will change the dynamic of infection of some pathogens, which were of minor importance or well controlled until today. For example, we are already observing that some enteric pathogens (virus, bacteria or parasites) are spread easier within a herd and re-emerge. Of course, animal health companies must be capable of understanding this in order to adapt our strategies to these new situations and needs.
TvdL: Clearly the challenge for the industry is to deliver, in an environmentally responsible way, more meat, milk and eggs to feed a growing world population. The focus for nutrition companies will be on providing feedstuffs that help animals grow well and be more productive, all the while ensuring that animal health is not compromised.
The rise of organic farming is a very interesting development, as it shows the consumer's needs and demands with respect to foodstuffs. However, the costs of organic farming, as well as the need for larger farmable land that it entails, will probably continue to make this more of a niche market as the set up is unlikely to deliver the required amount of meat, milk and eggs. Animal health control in an organic setting will also contribute to keep costs higher and hence may not be setting standards.
Erich Erber graduated from the College for Agriculture in Wieselburg and ventured out of Austria to explore agricultural practices around the globe. He later studied international business and export management in Vienna. After joining an Austrian feed additive company he met Dr. Herbert Egger who later became his mentor. In 1983 he resolved to supply the industry with premixes and feed additives that promoted the health of livestock - the natural way - and founded Biomin.
Javier Sanz obtained a Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Zaragoza (Spain) in 1988. He has 19 years experience in the Animal Health market, in several Animal Health laboratories, working both in commercial and marketing departments. He is currently the Marketing and Technical Services Director at HIPRA, managing a team of 32 people.
Tom van der Laan is currently Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Of Provimi SA. He was appointed COO of Provimi on 1 October 2005 and he previously worked for Unilever and Philips, where he held sales, marketing and general manager's positions. He was SVP of Global Customer Development and member of the Unilever Foods Executive in his last position at Unilever.