Sustainable Blog

What are feed additives?

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According to the European Commission’s commonly accepted definition,

“Feed additives are products used in animal nutrition for purposes of improving the quality of feed and the quality of food from animal origin, or to improve the animals’ performance and health, e.g. providing enhanced digestibility of the feed materials.”

You thought that animals ate plants, or grass or some other ‘food’ natural to their ilk. But in reality, in today’s factory farms, feeding livestock is a complicated endeavor fraught with controversy and split opinions.

According to a 2010 report by MarketsandMarkets, a market research company, the global feed additives market is expected to reach $18.7 billion by 2016. That’s no small industry. Their report also shows,

“Antibiotics is the leading demand generating product with a share of more than 27% in 2011, followed by amino acid with 26.5% share in the global feed additives market. The consumption of antibiotics is high due to increasing demand in Asian and Latin American regions to meet the high domestic and export demand for meat.”

There are four general types of feed additives:

Sensory Additives – these stimulate an animals appetite so that they naturally want to eat more.

Nutritional Additives – these provide a particular nutrient that may be deficient in an animal’s diet.

Zootechnical Additive – these improve the overall nutritional value of an animal’s diet through additives in the feed.

Coccidiostats and Histomonostats – these are feed additives which are antibiotics, intended to kill or inhibit protozoa (bacteria/micro-organisms). These have been banned in Europe since 2009 and replaced with probiotic alternatives.

Some of the controversy around feed additives comes from their use in livestock that is labeled ‘organic’. For example, Synthetic Methionine is a feed additive which is given to poultry to aid in adequate feathering. The feed that is given to the birds is not rich enough in the amino acid Methionine and so a synthetic additive is used. Critics of additives say that poultry which is given Synthetic Methionine should not be able to use the ‘organic’ labeling.

A new rule is currently making its way through the USDA that would reduce the acceptable limits of Synthetic Methionine in ‘organic’ poultry.

As far as the carbon footprint of feed additives, there has been little research to date. Just this year, researchers and educators from Arkansas, Indiana and Virginia are embarking on a new project to “create a model that tracks feed, ventilation, manure and energy use in pork production, as well as exploring the use of pig manure in making biofuels.” This would include an examination of the carbon footprint of feed additives in hog production.

By educating yourself on the realities of our modern day industrial food systems, you can start to make more educated decisions about what you choose to purchase and consume. There are clear links between large scale industrial farming and the massive amounts of fuel required to keep those systems running.

In a previous post, ‘How to Feed the Billions‘, we addressed some of the alarming trends in agriculture:

– More than 40% of the earth’s surface has been cleared for agriculture

– Global pastures cover 30 million km2–the size of the African continent

Our over reliance on imported oil for production and transportation of food in America has put us in a highly unsustainable and insecure position. By supporting small, local farms and limiting your consumption of processed foods and animal products, you can help to reduce the amount of oil that is used in food production and transportation. It will take a concerted effort by a concerned majority to make this a more sustainable America.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.