Much of the nutrition of farm animals is derived from the major feed ingredients such as maize, wheat and soybean meal, but if these were the only ingredients then the animal would not grow particularly well and would likely become deficient in some essential nutrients.
In modern-day farming, the nutritional requirements of farm animals can be met through direct dietary supplementation of the limiting nutrients in concentrated form. Nutritional quality of a feed is influenced not only by nutrient content but also by many other aspects such as, feed presentation, hygiene, content of anti-nutritional factors, digestibility, palatability and effect on intestinal health to name a few. Specialty feed ingredients provide a mechanism by which such dietary deficiencies can be addressed which benefits not only the nutrition and thus the growth rate of the animal concerned, but also its health and welfare.
Examples that most people would recognize are vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, K…), amino acids (methionine, lysine…), preservatives (citric acid…), essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega 6), emulsifiers (agar, guar gum) and essential micro minerals (iron, manganese, zinc…) among many others.
The use of additives in animal feed is subject to stringent EU regulation which provides a scientific assessment and a previous authorization of the products. The criteria for this authorization are: safety, quality and efficiency. The Commission and the Member States authorize an additive only after a thorough scientific review by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) indicating the safety for animals, people, environment, the identity and quality of the product as well as its efficiency. Authorization is granted to the additive for a given animal species and under given conditions. Only those who are mentioned on a so-called positive list may be used. Those which are not listed cannot be used.
Readers may be interested in what types of additives and functional ingredients are used in animal nutrition, how their use is regulated in the EU and the benefits that accrue from their use. This section aims at providing a better understanding of the qualitative and safe dimension of specialty feed ingredients.