Colors play important biological functions in nature that relies on a variety of natural compounds (e.g. carotenoids, chlorophylls, etc.) for the coloration of living animal and plant matter. In animal nutrition, colors come from the animal diet and are mostly linked with the presence of carotenoids, which form the largest group of naturally occurring pigments, widely responsible for the variety of yellow to red colors in fruits, vegetables, fungi, feathers of birds, fish flesh, cuticles of crustaceans or insects, as well as aquatic plants and algae.
They are synthesized by all photosynthetic organisms, some aphids, some bacteria and fungi alike. More than 750 carotenoids have been identified and approximately 60 of them are precursors of vitamin A, β-carotene being the most important. Animals are generally unable to synthesize carotenoids and require a dietary intake of plant products to meet daily demands. Carotenoid derivatives promote health, improve sexual behavior (color signaling) and are essential for reproduction. Some dietary carotenoids can be cleaved to provide vitamin A and are valuable for many physiological functions (e.g. antioxidant activity, immunostimulants, yolk nourishment to embryos, photoprotection).
Carotenoids have always been part of the daily diet of animals and humans. With the ongoing optimization of animal nutrition, they are included in the feed as part of the nutrients which support animal health and product quality.
The new FEFANA booklet aims at presenting an overview on carotenoids, with a focus on oxycarotenoids or xanthophylls, their use in animal nutrition and the benefit for the consumers. This publication describes the natural occurrence, the classification and the role of the carotenoids as well as their use as feed additives. More technical details are also provided in specific monographs.