Tuesday, February 24, 2015

24/02/2015: Can phytogenics address aquaculture challenges?

by Rui Gonçalves, Technical Manager – Aquaculture, Biomin

First published in International Aquafeed January - February 2015

Over the last decade, the aquaculture industry experienced consistent growth mainly in developing countries. Global aquaculture production will clearly continue to grow mainly due to improvements in production technology and increased demand for fish and shrimp products. However, aquaculture faces several important challenges in terms of efficient use of the raw materials, health management and environmental impact.

Challenges in aquafeeds

Reliance upon scarce and costly raw materials, such as fishmeal, and the optimal use of alternative ingredients, likely constitute one of the main concerns in aquaculture. Consumer awareness about environmental sustainability also encourages producers to improve the production performance through sustainable aquaculture practices. However, the use of less costly protein sources and low-nutrient dense diets will most likely lead to lower protein digestibility, higher amino acid imbalance, higher carbohydrate and fibre content. 

This can lead to inefficient nutrient use, resulting in increased feed usage and consequently higher production costs. In addition, sub-optimal animal performance leads to greater susceptibility to disease and higher ammonia emissions that increase the ecological footprint. Phytogenic feed additives — consisting of herbs, spices, extracts or other plant-derived compounds — have gained considerable attention as an answer to these challenges. The active ingredients (e.g. phenols and flavonoids) can exert multiple effects in animals, including improvement of feed conversion ratio (FCR), digestibility, growth rate, reduction of nitrogen excretion and improvement of the gut flora and health status.

Reduced dependence on fishmeal versus feed efficiency

The replacement of fishmeal by plant protein, whether for economic or sustainable reasons, can decrease feed efficiency. Plant raw materials are less digestible and negatively impact the gastrointestinal tract. The presence of undigested nitrogenous compounds in the intestine favours the formation of ammonia and biogenic amines by the intestinal microbiota. 

These toxic compounds cause an imbalance of the intestinal microbiota, resulting in inflammatory processes and accelerated turnover of the intestinal tissue, leading to poor performance. Phytogenics stimulate the digestive secretions, increase villi length and density and increase mucous production through an increase in the number of globlet cells. Through different strategies phytogenics can improve feed digestibility, especially for proteins and amino acids. 

Make money with sustainable solutions

Beyond the clear positive effects on improving feed efficiency, nutrient sparing could be a powerful solution to limit the nitrogen discharge to the environment. Phytogenic feed additives can decrease ammonia emissions through improved protein use, hence decreasing the discharge of nitrogen. The reduction of nutrient excretion also means less available nutrients in the water for opportunistic pathogens to grow. Figure 1 displays a basic example on how digestibility can improve production. Phytogenics can be used as a tool to comply certain sustainability targets, e.g. sustainability certification, than can offer a premium price and allow exports to command higher value markets.

Meanwhile, get rid of AGPs
Low levels of antibiotics in animal feeds, known as antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs), results in antibiotic resistance and the emergence of so-called ‘superbugs.’ In recent years antibiotic growth promoters have been banned from aquaculture production in nearly all countries. Farmers who still use AGPs have limited or no access to high value markets. Phytogenics can act as natural growth promoters improving palatability of diets, stimulating appetite, increasing feed consumption and growth performance. It also induces the transcription rate (increasing the RNA) that leads to an increase in total amino acid available and therefore enhancing the production of proteins in the cells.

Making sustainability profitable

With the current record-high raw feed prices, the pressure to optimise the use of alternative ingredients, and consumer awareness about sustainability, it is imperative to improve the digestibility of commercial diets, to optimise feed utilisation and to reduce nitrogen discharges. Recent research confirms that phytogenic feed additives can improve feed digestibility, especially of proteins and amino acids, thus reducing feed costs and nitrogen output. Therefore, phytogenic feed additives are considered a valuable tool to secure better feed efficiency and maintain a profitable aquaculture business following sustainable guiding principles.

Read the magazine HERE.

The Aquaculturists
This blog is maintained by The Aquaculturists staff and is supported by the
magazine International Aquafeed which is published by
Perendale Publishers Ltd

For additional daily news from aquaculture around the world: aquaculture-news

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