Feed additives, and why nobody pays for immunity

Animal Nutrition Views

Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ph.D., gives his views on poultry, pig and dairy nutrition based on his experience as a nutrition consultant with clients around the world.

Feed additives, and why nobody pays for immunity

There are a considerable number of feed additives presently on the market, for all farmed species and pets, with substantial claims regarding immunity.

The role of immunity has revolutionized the way we think about animal nutrition. Indeed, there is sufficient data to support contrasting nutrition programs based on immunity, mostly thanks to pioneering work conducted at land-grant universities in California (poultry) and Iowa (pigs) in U.S. The most impactful effect is on the relationship between energy and the first limiting amino acid, but also in the use of specialty ingredients in diets for young animals.

Additives, however, have a hard time selling based on immunity. As a matter of fact, there are a considerable number of feed additives presently on the market, for all farmed species and pets, with substantial claims regarding immunity. Whereas the majority of such additives list immunity boost as a side, but desirable, effect, there are certain products that are marketed entirely on their immunity-strengthening properties. It is this last group of additives that usually fails to convince customers, and there is a very good reason for that.

Despite the best efforts from numerous scientists throughout the world, we still lack a quick, reliable and inexpensive tool-index to quantify the immune status of a herd or flock of animals. Improved immune status does not cure diseases; instead, it prevents animals from developing certain diseases based on their innate resistance as a result of a strong immune system. Thus, we have the paradox of paying for "security" instead of curing a disease. And, it is widely acknowledged we are all more likely to pay to resolve a problem than prevent one from developing — unless, of course, we have already encountered the same issue previously.

Thus, feed additives sold on immunity-improvement claims cannot succeed because there is no measurable way to evaluate their success, as healthy animals simply remain healthy; but is this because of the additive, or just lack of disease pressure? This question is currently impossible to answer with any degree of certainty. And, this makes a buying decision more of an act of faith rather than a decision based on a predictable return on investment. Currently, the only solution is to alter the marketing message for such additives, but this requires considerable effort.