Animal Feed and Nutrition: Impact on Human Health

Animal nutrition is critical to safeguard human health

Animal nutrition emphasizes on the dietary needs of animals, predominantly those in agriculture and food production. Feed additives are integral components of animal nutrition that are developed to meet objectives, such as improving the quality of feed and food products from animal origin, animals’ performance, and productivity and health, as well as providing enhanced digestibility of feed materials. These additives require regulatory approval and scientific evidence to regard them as safe products for humans, animals, and the environment (Refer to Exhibit 1).

The manufacturing of feed additives is principally dependent on natural resources. It is the collective responsibility of all stakeholders in the animal health ecosystem to ensure biosphere integrity, deal with land-system change, minimize the water waste, and regulate biogeochemical flows and climate change.

Feeding the world population with safe animal-based products remains a challenge

The world population is growing at an alarming rate and is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Thus, feeding the fast-growing population and improving health have become top priorities.

The human body consists of 17% protein; it is dependent on animal-based products, such as meat, fish, egg, and milk. Going forth, the main challenge is to produce protein in ways that sustain our planet and not drain it. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the global annual meat consumption could reach 373 million metric tons by 2030 and 465 million metric tons by 2050.

The animal feed comprises plant-based products and other ingredients derived from rendered animals, animal wastes, antibiotics, and organoarsenicals. The inclusion of biological, chemical, and etiologic ingredients in animal feed can affect the quality and safety of animal-based food products and cause potential risks to human health (refer Table 1).

According to the World Health Organization and several epidemiological studies, the consumption of red meat and processed meat (e.g., bacon and hot dogs) increases the risk of cancer in humans.

The global estimate of antibiotic use appears to be higher in monogastric animals than in ruminants. The antimicrobial consumption in livestock demonstrated significant geographic heterogeneity across continents (Refer to Exhibit 2). Between 2010 and 2030, the global consumption of antimicrobials is expected to increase by 67%, from 63,151±1,560 tons to 105,596±3,605 tons. In India alone, the antibiotic consumption is expected to rise by 312% by 2030.

Food-animal production in most of the developed countries, including the US, has changed over the past century, and these changes have impacted the animal feed composition. Though the industrialized system of food-animal production may result in increased production efficiencies, some of the changes in animal feeding practices may cause inadvertent adverse health consequences for consumers of animal-based food products.

Regulatory and corporate responsibilities are critical in protecting animal and human health

Owing to the above-mentioned concerns, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an organization that develops feed regulations to safeguard the health of humans and animals, recommends that processed animal waste should contain no pathogenic microorganisms, pesticide residues, or drug residues, which could harm animals or eventually be detected in animal-based food products intended for human consumption. Nevertheless, these regulations are not adequately enforced at the federal or state level.

A study conducted by Nestle on nutrition trends in Germany confirmed that consumers progressively value resource-friendly and ethically sourced food. Citizens worldwide are increasingly becoming sensitive to sustainability issues, which, in turn, has demanded accountable action from the corporate world with regard to sustainable food production. In another scenario, McDonald’s announced that its outlets in the US would no longer be serving chicken raised with antibiotics. This decision resulted from public pressure controlling the use of antibiotics in livestock rearing (Refer to Exhibit 3).

Innovation continues to be a key determinant in providing effective and safe animal nutrition

Probiotics and prebiotics could be employed in animal nutrition as safe antibiotic replacers to provide healthy and safe food. Feed phytogenics also referred to as phytobiotics, are plant-based feed additives utilized in animal nutrition. These are derived from herbs, spices, and extracts (such as essential oils); they provide key solutions for conventional and antibiotic-free animal nutrition according to leading players in phytogenic feed additives, such as Delacon, Cargill, and BIOMIN. Other viable alternatives to antibiotics could be bacteriophage therapy, antimicrobial peptides (amphiphilic polypeptides), lysin therapy, and bacteriocins.

Animal products can be a rich source of nutraceutical and anticarcinogenic compounds. Animal nutritionists refine animal diets to modulate milk and meat content of conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids to increase their concentration in the human diet.

Future of animal feed and nutrition will be like a roller-coaster ride

The animal industry has been exposed to and will keep on confronting more prominent examination by the public, regulatory agencies, and stakeholders to assess the quality of animal feed. Several scientific publications have emphasized the effect of livestock production on the environment by highlighting major issues, such as carbon and water footprints, antibiotic use and its resistance, animal products and human health, and animal welfare, among others.

Additionally, there are numerous challenges faced by animal and human nutrition scientists. They not only need to focus on increasing livestock productivity to nourish the growing population but also need to educate people (at least that portion that is overfed) regarding overconsumption of animal products that might have an adverse effect on human health.

Several approaches are disclosed to ensure the quality of animal feed and safe consumption of animal products for humans. However, most of them are in still in the research phase and practiced at a pilot-scale. Key problems encountered by the animal feed and nutrition industry are ways of making animal feed cost-effective, readily available, and of high quality without compromising its productivity.

Increased scrutiny on the effect of animal feed and nutrition on human health, clarity on greenhouse gas emissions, and standardization on water footprint are desirable when developing and validating approaches to assess short-and long-term impacts of livestock production. Failure in accurately measuring these effects may lead to dismissal and dissatisfaction by the livestock business, increase public disarray, and result in the development of illusionary solutions that may enhance the impact, thereby refuting the unique goal.