PSA Symposium: Industry addresses challenges of antibiotic-free production, asks what’s next for consumer demand
[NEW ORLEANS] – No matter where poultry operations place their mission statement on the spectrum of traditional and antibiotic-free production, the consumer-driven issue is having a “snowball” effect on the industry. This fact was evident as 650 poultry academia and industry members packed the Symposium: Challenges with Antibiotic-Free Poultry Production sponsored by Alltech at the 105th Poultry Science Association (PSA) meeting in New Orleans last week.
“Alltech’s latest review shows that there is legislation or planned legislation being implemented on the use of antibiotics in feed in 47 countries globally,” said Aidan Connolly, chief innovation officer at Alltech and chair of the symposium. “This trend is inevitable and is why the industry is moving toward other programs.”
Dr. Peter Ferket, extension specialist and nutritionist at North Carolina State University, kicked off the symposium with a timeline of the role antibiotics have played in the poultry industry and the opportunity today to incorporate smart “blue sky” strategies as the industry shifts to antibiotic-free production in his presentation “Physiology of Gut Health and the Road to ABF.”
“The gut microflora is so complex,” said Ferket. “We must ask ourselves: Are we really feeding chickens, or are we truly feeding their enteric ecosystem?”
Ferket offered three feeding strategies to control the enteric ecosystem:
Establish the ecological environment by cultivating early enteric development and gut motility and by seeding the gut through direct-fed microbials.
Secure a nutrient balance by feeding enzymes, XOS, FOS and MOS products.
Maintain symbiotic microflora stability by weeding out pathogens through the use of antibiotics, essential oils, organic acids and MOS products.
Dr. Randall Singer, professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, shared the latest developments in antibiotic resistance, pointing out that as the industry moves to antibiotic-free production, antibiotic resistance will still be an ongoing battle, as disease treatment requires higher doses of antibiotics than the growth promotion and disease prevention administrations.
“Antibiotic alternatives don’t take us off the hook for antibiotic resistance,” said Singer. “Some of these alternatives have antimicrobial properties and could exacerbate antibiotic-resistant bacterial populations that are already present. Everyone needs to focus on responsible use of antibiotics, regardless of whether these birds are grown antibiotic-free or in a more conventional manner.”
Dr. Greg Mathis, president of Southern Poultry Research, examined the influence of antibiotic-free production on coccidiosis. With the new Veterinary Feed Directive regulations going into effect January 1, 2017, producers will only be able to utilize seven of the 12 anticoccidial drugs on the market, putting more pressure on producers to utilize cocci vaccines.
“The concern is we are giving live parasites to chickens, and a whole army of them,” said Mathis. “These coccicidia are alive and cycling through the bird and through the house. Live coccidian parasites that recycle introduce re-infection and increase immunity challenges with repeated recycling.”
While Mathis suggests a hybrid program (a vaccine plus a low level anticoccidial drug), he offered several viable alternatives for controlling coccidiosis in antibiotic-free production units, such as yucca (quillaja), phytoceuticals, essential oils, probiotics, prebiotics, botanicals and combination products.
“Consumers appear to believe these alternatives are safe; they are generally used to support coccidia vaccination, and they are not anticoccidial drugs,” said Mathis.
Dr. Peter Spring, professor at Bern University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland, followed with his presentation on the current European position on antibiotic-free production. Spring said after the 2006 European Union ban on all growth promoters, too many producers/systems were not totally ready for the change and lost some performance during the first phase. Now more than 10 years later, Switzerland is treating only 5 to 12 percent of broiler flocks each year; treatments are below the level they were prior to the ban.
“It is a moving benchmark,” said Spring. “What is considered good today might not be acceptable tomorrow. In Europe, we have to keep working to getting to antibiotic-free as close as possible.”
The symposium concluded with a lively debate, with four operations offering their perspectives on antibiotic-free production. While each had different opinions on the antibiotic-free movement, all agreed that consumer choice is a positive and the move to “Never Antibiotics Ever” can’t happen overnight.
Fieldale Farms made the antibiotic-free switch in 1997 after customer requests. The northeast Georgia operation trialled 150,000 to 200,000 birds a week for two years before selling a single antibiotic-free chicken on the market.
“You can’t do it in 10 weeks,” said David Wicker, vice president of live operations at Fieldale Farms. “You can screw up a lot of chickens if you don’t do it right. Drugs still work. If you take them out, you are going to have a few surprises, and you need to be prepared for a learning curve.”
Alltech also recognized the 33rd Alltech Student Research Manuscript Award winner Dr. Marisa Erasmus, assistant professor and extension specialist at Purdue University, during the PSA meeting. Erasmus holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Guelph, Ontario, and a doctorate degree from Michigan State University. As an extension specialist and teacher of animal well-being, Erasmus focuses on welfare challenges and inspires students to become interested in animal welfare and to be engaged with the agricultural industry. In addition to teaching, Erasmus’ extension and applied research activities are focused on generating science-based methods for objectively assessing and improving animal well-being and identifying individual animal characteristics that enable animals to cope under different circumstances.
The Alltech Student Research Manuscript Award recognizes a senior author of an outstanding research manuscript in the international journal Poultry Science or The Journal of Applied Poultry Research. Alltech has sponsored the award since 2000, highlighting exceptional scholars for their research presentations at the annual PSA meeting and their scientific contribution to the poultry industry.
Ike Kang (left), associate professor at California Polytechnic State University, accepts the 33rd Alltech Student Research Manuscript Award on behalf of winner Dr. Marisa Erasmus, assistant professor and extension specialist at Purdue University, from Ted Sefton, director of poultry at Alltech Canada during the 105th annual Poultry Science Association meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, July 11–14.