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Published on Jan. 26, 2021

Antibiotic free animal protein production

Is antibiotic free animal protein within reach? What are the pros and cons of not using antibiotics in animal protein production? When bacteria infections become severe, antibiotics are a possible effective solution.

For over 70 years, businesses have been using antimicrobials in the feed and water of animals to support growth, improve survival rates while at the same time creating a safer supply of food. On the other hand, with repeated over- and misuse of antibiotics, bacteria evolve over time and can become resistant. The process of antimicrobial resistance is speeding up, making the treatments of infections much harder or even impossible. On the other hand, too much focus on only reducing antibiotics will also jeopardize animal welfare. The animal protein sector has a duty to treat animals in need.

Responsible use of antibiotics to create a safer worldwide supply of food

Antimicrobial resistance simply explained: Bacteria evolve over time. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when surviving bacteria pass on their genes to the next generation. Therefore, making them resistant to a specific antibiotic. Human and animal health are connected, we see high value in using antibiotics to treat animals and humans. As we are all entitled to treatments when faced by a disease. We have a responsibility towards people, animals and our planet to take care of one another. Although most of the antibiotic resistance humans are facing is related to antibiotic usage in human medicine, we do recognize that usage in the food chain is a factor. Therefore, we are committed to bring solutions to prevent this crisis. So how do we address antimicrobial resistance, battle diseases and secure a safe supply of food?

In order to keep animals and people healthy, we focus on sustainable animal breeding. We select animals that are more resistant to diseases and can quickly recover from challenges on their own. We also have a biosecure system in place to prevent the need for antibiotics in the first place. We secure the supply of genetics by having a global structure of strategically located biosecure nuclei and local multiplication farms and hatcheries. All these and more efforts are in place to create a safer worldwide supply of food.

SPF, SPR or SPT as biosecurity standard

Abbreviations, our industry is full of them. For those who want a clear explanation on SPR, SPR and SPT:

  • SPF or Specific Pathogen Free refers only to the fact that the animals are free from certain pathogens, not free from all pathogens. It is a sanitary status. This status is easily lost if an animal is transferred to a lesser sanitary status, where it can be easily infected by the specific pathogens.
  • SPR or Specific Pathogen Resistant means animals are resistant to infection by a specific pathogen. This is a qualitative trait as they can either be infected or not.
  • SPT or Specific Pathogen Tolerant means animals are tolerant to a specific disease. The animal can be infected but may not develop the disease or it may develop it to a lesser extent.

Specific Pathogen Free, Specific Pathogen Resistant and Specific Pathogen Tolerant are a part of a good biosecurity policy; with SPR and SPT animals it is easier to maintain a SPF sanitary status. Making reduction of antibiotics and controlling diseases more achievable. Keeping in mind that resistant or tolerant animals are not necessarily a step forward for a safer food supply. Animals not becoming ill themselves, does not mean that they won’t transfer diseases or that people can’t become ill from it. It is a delicate matter with many angles to cover. Battling diseases is a process of one step at a time, facing multiple factors.

HG Genomics Laboratory

Is total antibiotic free protein production a possibility?

It is crystal clear that the use of antibiotics in animal production should be minimized as much as possible. Many developments in science and technology will help us in this process. However, it becomes an ethical question, if we will allow an animal to die, while we can cure it with antibiotics. For the time being, livestock sectors and we as an animal breeding company can contribute as much possible to prevent antibiotics usage, but when an animal is suffering from a bacterial disease, threatening its integrity, it must be treated with antibiotics as necessary, using as little as possible. A total ban of any antibiotic treatment is animal cruelty.

Hendrix Genetics started a sustainability program in 2013: contributing to a sustainable future to ensure the well-being of present and future generations. During the first 5 years of the program responsible use of antibiotics was one of the main mandatory stakes all our business units worked on, along with improving biosecurity, animal welfare and health and security of personnel. This phase was concluded with an extensive CSR report and was followed up with new initiatives based on eight material stakes. These stakes were derived from an extensive customer survey to boost sustainability as we aim to set standards for sustainable animal breeding.

Novel technologies

Effectively implementing antibiotic free animal production requires the entire world to collaborate. When more people commit to implementing good practices to minimize the need of using antibiotics, there are fruitful collaborations possible. New technologies for example also help battle diseases and help reduce the need for antibiotics. Novel technologies are being developed and tested, making it able to detect early warning signs and management interventions to be implemented sooner. When animals fall ill, they usually show signs of stress upfront. They behave differently, make more or less noise, heat up or cool down, speed up or slow down their pace. With new technologies you can detect changes earlier and care takers can address a problem faster. Isolating the ones that show signs in order to prevent a wide-spread contamination while also adjusting feed, water or climate control.

Taking care of each other

It is our responsibility to take care of our animals, our employees, our customers, the environment and consumers worldwide. Taking care of each other means to provide for our safekeeping. As everything is linked and needs a delicate balance in order to work like clockwork or a well-oiled machine, we all need to make choices and have multiple angles in sight. Where is our highest priority? Is it an individual or the group? Is it people that are in need of food or the animals that are turned into food? What about environment, resources, generations, cultures, classes, genders? The ethics that are bound by selecting for the next generation are not easy. We want to look into possibilities to overcome current practices or standards that are outdated, not accepted or just can improved so that taking care of each other covers more angles than it does today. Sustainable animal breeding is our pathway to a brighter life tomorrow for animals, people and our planet.

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