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Organic acids grow on the farm

Livestock farmers adopt the additives as replacements for growth-promoting antibiotics

by Michael McCoy
May 31, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 23

Credit: Shutterstock

Organic acids are replacing antibiotics in animal feed formulas.
A photograph of pigs.
Credit: Shutterstock

Organic acids are replacing antibiotics in animal feed formulas.

With antibiotics increasingly being shunned as growth promoters, chemical makers are investing in short-chain organic acids as a new way to help farmers increase meat production without contributing to antimicrobial resistance.

The specialty chemical company Oxea just completed an expansion of its plant in Oberhausen, Germany, that boosts output of short-chain organic acids such as propionic acid, butyric acid, and isobutyric acid.

Last month, Sweden’s Perstorp launched production of valeric acid, which it says is the first new organic acid for animal nutrition in decades. Also last month, the French industrial biotech firm Metabolic Explorer said it plans to invest in a facility that makes butyric acid via fermentation.

All three companies are responding to rising farmer interest in organic acids and their derivatives as components of antibiotic growth promoter (AGP)-free animal feed. AGPs were dropped in Europe, the largest market for the organic acids, in 2006. Use in the U.S. was restricted on Jan. 1 of this year, but antibiotics can still be found in animal diets in Asia.

“Demand for the required salts and esters of butyric acids and propionic acid, in particular in Asia and the Americas, to manufacture AGP-free animal feed is growing significantly,” says Christoph Balzarek, director of Oxea’s carboxylic acids business.

Antibiotics are thought to promote animal growth by suppressing bacteria that consume nutrients in the gastrointestinal tracts of their hosts. But overuse of antibiotics can cause bacteria to become resistant—a danger to both animal and human populations.

Organic acids have been added to animal feed for decades to reduce bacteria growth and mold. When fed to animals in larger quantities, the acids disrupt the metabolic processes of gut bacteria without the accompanying risk of resistance, according to Fefana, a European feed ingredients association.

European pig farmers started adopting organic acids after the 2006 antibiotic ban. More recently, the acids have been added to poultry and aquaculture feed.

Global sales of organic acids for animal feed exceed $1 billion per year, Fefana says. The group projects demand will continue growing at 4.5% annually. Metabolic Explorer contends that demand for butyric acid is growing particularly fast, expanding by 250% since 2010.



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