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  • Daniela Battaglia
    Livestock Production
    FAO HQ, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
    Rome, 00153, Italy
    [email protected]
  • Harinder Makkar
    Animal Production Officer
    FAO HQ, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
    Rome, 00153, Italy
    [email protected]
Viet Nam. A poultry vendor selling ducks at Phu Ly town's market. ©FAO/AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam


You are what they eat: The importance of animal feed for public health


In the global health arena, biological threats are most commonly associated with viruses, bacteria or other microbes affecting humans, animals and even the environment. These pathogens can cause sickness and death for people, livestock, plants and much more as they tax the veterinary, public and ecohealth systems struggling to control them.


However, an equally important threat puts global health, and especially human health, at risk: unsafe and poor quality animal feed. More and more people rely on livestock and animal products for consumption and livelihoods than ever before, and livestock production is growing fast, especially in developing countries, to meet rising demand of a growing global population. This is putting increasing pressure on feed producers, including on farm mixers as they boost their capacity to provide quality feed with the correct nutritional content and free from contaminants.


Microbiological agents such as E. coli O157, Listeria, Salmonella, endoparasites, or the toxins produced by agents such as Aspergillus and Fusarium can sometimes find their way into feed, and subsequently into the animal organisms that humans rely on for their own health and wellbeing. Other industrial and environmental contaminants such as dioxin, dibenzofurans, dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls, heavy metals and natural plant toxins such as alkaloids, di- and tri-terpenes can also enter food chains through feeds. Without proper controls, skills, resources and awareness, there is a risk that unsafe animal feed will find its way in the system, animals and eventually people.


FAO has been working with governments to promote safe and quality animal feed for many years and FAO expertise works hand in hand not only with national authorities but also private sector partners. As a result, more animals receive the quality feed they require to lead healthy lives, and more animal production systems benefit from higher quality animals and resulting products. Healthier animals lead not only to higher quality animal products, but also to higher yields from livestock production.


One way FAO works toward this result is by enhancing the dialogue between all stakeholders, through the organization of regular international and regional meetings jointly with the International Feed Industry Association (IFIF). FAO has also been providing support for the implementation of the Codex Alimentarius standards and guidelines related to feed, for instance with the production of a manual on Good Practices for the Feed Industry, jointly with the same IFIF.


Since 2008, FAO together with IFIF, has also organized eight International Feed Regulators Meetings to bring together feed industry representatives and government officials from around the world to discuss key issues for the feed and food chain. These include feed safety management, product registration and capacity development.


Another way FAO works toward this result is by developing capacities of national food and feed analysis laboratories – the entities that perform the testing and quality assurance on animal feed and related products. For example, in Bangladesh, FAO has provided technical assistance to the Government to build, set up and operationalize the National Food Safety Laboratory in Dhaka (NFSL). Inaugurated in October 2012, this laboratory within the Institute of Public Health is a state of the art facility for chemical and microbiological analysis of food and feed.  With funding from the European Union and the Netherlands, FAO has helped equip the laboratory and train its staff to develop capabilities required for testing for pesticide residues, heavy metals, additives, formaldehyde, mycotoxins, veterinary drug residues and much more – all of which can find their way into feed, and subsequently into animals and human food chain. The establishment of the NFSL has been well timed as Bangladesh is now implementing new legislation, the Food Safety Act, 2013 from February this year. Validated analytical methods and trained human resources are in position to keep pace with the upgraded regulations. This is expected to lead to higher standards of health for the people who i) consume livestock meat, milk and eggs for nutrition; and ii) use animal-based textiles and hides for clothing and shelter.


In addition, FAO jointly with International Analytic Group in Vienna, Austria has been organizing Proficiency test (also called Ring tests) for feed analysis laboratories. In 2014, 85 laboratories from developing countries and 45 from developed countries participated in the test. The Proficiency test monitors the quality of analytical results and identify assays that need improvement through for example staff training, proper use of equipment, suitability of methods, among others.


Also since 2013, FAO jointly with Texas A&M, USA, has organized a distant learning on-line e-course on ‘Laboratory quality systems’ for laboratory managers and quality control officers. The course focuses on developing and implementing laboratory quality systems and covers a wide range of topics including method development, laboratory accreditation, chain of custody and international laboratory standards. The focus of the course is to provide laboratory professionals with the necessary tools to produce and analyze data, document traceability, and calculate the uncertainty in reported data.  A total of 55 laboratory personnel from 35 developing countries have been trained so far. This year also FAO will organize the Proficiency test and the e-learning course. FAO has also produced a number of manuals to enhance quality systems in feed analysis laboratories and feed industries. Furthermore, FAO is in the process of developing a tool for distant  auditing of feed analysis laboratories. These manuals and tools guide the feed analysis laboratories to integrate quality control systems and good management practices in feed analysis laboratories and feed manufacturing units.


These efforts are contributing to enhancing skill of laboratory personnel, resulting in generation of reliable data on feed quality and safety parameters. Laboratory quality assurance and quality improvement programmes play a vital role in producing sound and defensible analytical results. The implementation of a laboratory quality system is the key to ensuring compliance with regulatory standards, gaining consumer confidence and maintaining competitiveness in both domestic and global markets.


FAO is now launching a Multi-stakeholder Partnership Programme for Capacity Development for Feed Safety which will be a forum to support capacity building, exchange information and coordinate activities to enhance feed safety both globally and locally.

FAO’s efforts are playing an important role towards strengthening a ‘feed-food safety nexus’ and enhancing public and eco-system health.