The potential of innovative feed solutions for boosting gut microbiome health of animals remains underexplored, despite mounting scientific evidence indicating that it underpins both animal health and welfare, stakeholders have highlighted.
Pointing to the fact that the intestinal tissue harbours 60-70% of animals’ immune systems, Daniela Battaglia, livestock production officer at the UN’s food and agriculture organisation (FAO), stressed that adequate animal nutrition has a huge impact on allowing the gut microbiome to function as a barrier against the invading pathogens.
“We have also to keep in mind that gut health is much more than a healthy gut,” she said during a recent EURACTIV event, pointing out its role in contributing to the overall physiological and behavioural needs of animals.
The microbiome is a collective term referring to the reservoirs of microorganisms living in the guts of humans and animals, which work behind the scenes to provide vital support to health and well-being.
The concept has been relatively unknown until now, but a growing body of scientific evidence suggests the vital importance of gut microbiomes in human and animal lives and highlights the role that innovative feed strategies can play in supporting this.
“We have seen how diet and feeding regimes and feed additives have an impact in improving animal resilience, not only to infection and diseases, but also stressors, and therefore they impact not only animal health, but also animal welfare,” Battaglia said.
For example, combined additive strategies have already been successfully used to reduce the risk of salmonella colonisation and transmission in broiler chickens, she said, while various phytochemicals have been demonstrated to have immune-stimulatory and anti-inflammatory effects in piglets.
“And this is just the beginning of exploiting the potential that feed additives have on the gut microbiota,” she stressed, suggesting that there could soon be more specific examples of how correct feeding regimes and feed additives can increase animal health and welfare.
These sentiments were shared by the EU’s Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, who also pointed to the potential of the gut microbiome in her opening address.
Emphasising that the Commission is “well aware” of the potential benefits that innovations can bring in this field, the Commissioner said that modern feeding regimes focusing on gut health and animals microbiomes have shown “excellent results in strengthening their ability to cope with stress factors, as well as with pathogens”.
Filip Van Immerseel, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Gent, pointed out that animal health is not always about pathogens, but more often than not a problem of digestibility, due to intestinal inflammation with a disrupted gut microbiome.
Moreover, he added, many of the more traditional solutions for the problems are also highly dependent on the response of the host to the gut microflora.
However, a number of challenges remain in understanding and capitalising on the potential of innovative feedstuffs in this area.
Highlighting that this interaction among bacteria present in the gut requires further research, Van Immerseel noted the importance of scientists engaging with industry stakeholders to advance work in this area.
“This is only possible if we as scientists interact with the industry, listen to their questions, of course, and try to give or provide solutions, together with people from regulatory authorities,” he said, adding that this kind of collaboration has already led to a lot of innovation.
Likewise, speaking during a recent panel for the future of science and technology (STOA) panel in the European Parliament, Lene Lange, founder of the Danish startup LLa-BioEconomy, said that microbiome research would benefit from being more cross-sectorial.
“We are working in silos, some working on plants, some animals, some on humans – but there are patterns and new concepts to be understood if we look across those different silos,” she said, stressing that this is key for gaining insight and faster understanding of the microbiome’s function and roles.
“Strengthening microbiome research is overall important for sustainable environment, and human and animal health at large,” she emphasised.
Another issue is a lack of diagnostic tools to deepen understanding of the link between nutrition and gut health.
Pointing out that, in line with the EU feed additives legislation, the sector continues to rely on animal performance as a general indicator of the efficacy of feed additives, Van Immerseel stressed there is a “very clear and urgent need for easy, reliable and fast tools, diagnostic tools” to evaluate the response to nutritional interventions that support gut health.
This would allow companies that produce diets and additives to better evaluate products and diets that they are developing, he said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]