28 September 2020 - The overuse of antimicrobials in global livestock production and the threat of antimicrobial resistance poses one of the biggest risks to human and animal health around the globe. And as one of the biggest users of antimicrobials, the pig sector faces increasing pressure to find alternative ways to manage herd health.
To help the industry play its part in limiting the resistance risk, BIOMIN has taken a front seat in the Alternatives to Veterinary ANTimicrobials (AVANT) project — a five-year, €6 million EU-backed research programme working to identify ways to reduce antibiotics use in pig production.
Coordinated by the University of Copenhagen, the project will focus on alternatives to antimicrobials for managing bacterial infections, especially diarrhoea during weaning — one of the major uses of antimicrobial use in livestock production
Feedinfo spoke to Dr. Verity Ann Sattler, Scientist at BIOMIN Research Centre, and AVANT project Coordinator and University of Copenhagen Professor, Luca Guardabassi, to find out more about the project.
[Feedinfo] The European pig sector has already made significant efforts to reducing antibiotics. Why are those reductions important, and is there really more the industry could do to limit antibiotics use?
Prof. Luca Guardabassi
[Luca Guardabassi] Antibiotic misuse and overuse is unacceptable even if a single person died each year because of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) linked to livestock production. Human life cannot be put at risk to produce cheap meat. The Netherlands and Scandinavia have shown that livestock can be produced with minimal levels of antimicrobial use, and now other countries need to follow this example. These countries can probably only marginally reduce consumption further, but they can improve antibiotic use qualitatively. It is not only a matter of quantity but quality as well, since the effects of different selective antibiotics are not the same; we have a lot to learn about that.
[Feedinfo] The Alternatives to Veterinary ANTimicrobials (AVANT) project has been awarded €6m to research methods to decrease the application of antibiotics in pigs over the next six years. Can you tell us about the project?
[Luca Guardabassi] AVANT is a multi-actor inter-sectorial project aimed at developing alternatives to antimicrobials for the management of bacterial infections in pigs, especially diarrhoea during the weaning period. During pre-clinical studies, efficacy, toxicity, and mode of action of different interventions is tested, and their dosage and formulation is optimised. The results, together with a survey gauging veterinarians’, farmers’ and consumers’ perception of antimicrobial alternatives, will be used alongside legal and economic considerations to select three interventions for large-scale farm trials, assessing clinical efficacy and impact on antimicrobial use.
The consortium includes the University of Copenhagen, BIOMIN, Cooperl, Easy AgriCare, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), KLIFOVET, Laboratorios Ovejero, The Royal Veterinary College, RTDS Association, Schothorst Feed Research, SEGES, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), Complutense University of Madrid and Wageningen Research.
[Feedinfo] What is the University of Copenhagen’s role?
[Luca Guardabassi] The University of Copenhagen’s Department of Veterinary Disease Biology is coordinating the consortium, and is involved in several projects aiming to reduce antimicrobial use. Our main efforts are to develop a protocol for faecal transplantation and a phage-based therapy against enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli (ETEC), which is probably the most common and impacting cause of post-weaning diarrhoea in pigs worldwide. Replacing the use of antibiotics with effective and sustainable alternatives is, however, just one of the possible strategies. The solutions we investigate to reduce antibiotic use will broadly comprise of enhanced diagnostics, and improved prevention and therapy.
[Feedinfo] The project is looking to develop alternatives to antimicrobials for managing bacterial infections, especially diarrhoea during weaning. Why is this an important area to focus on?
[Luca Guardabassi] The weaning period is the most stressful event for piglets due to their undeveloped digestive systems, the stress caused by separation from their mothers and living together with a large number of similar-aged piglets from other sows and farms. In the EU, pigs are the species which use most antibiotics, and post-weaning diarrhoea is the most common reason for their use. Treating diarrhoea is essential to the welfare of the piglets during the weaning period, as well as to farm economics. A success in our project would have a significant and immediate impact on overall antimicrobial consumption, as well as on animal welfare and farming sustainability. In addition, healthy pigs ensure better utilisation of feed, which contributes to improved farming climate sustainability through lower CO2 emissions/kg of pork produced.
Antimicrobial treatment options for management of ETEC are very limited at present. The use of the two antimicrobials that have been traditionally used for treating this disease, colistin and zinc oxide, is increasingly limited because of the possible risks related to selection and transfer of clinically relevant AMR from pigs to humans. Considering that no vaccines are available against ETEC, we urgently need alternatives to these antimicrobials to ensure pig health and productivity.
[Feedinfo] What specific investigations will you be carrying out?
[Luca Guardabassi] The AVANT research activities aim to produce a complementary set of alternatives for treatment or prevention of diarrhoea. These include gut-stabilising interventions based on a synbiotic (pre- and probiotic) product and faecal microbiota transplantation, novel veterinary medicinal products containing bacteriophages and polymers for targeted treatment of enterotoxigenic E. coli infections. The research will also consider injectable and oral immunostimulants, feed additive products, and alternative feeding strategies targeting sows and piglets. The efficacy and safety of the three most promising interventions will be evaluated by large clinical trials, bringing these interventions and products closer to the market. The effects of these interventions on the reduction of antimicrobial use will be measured at farm level and predicted on a larger scale, at the EU level, by mathematical modelling.
[Feedinfo] What role can feed play in reducing post-weaning diarrhoea and limiting antibiotics use?
[Verity Ann Sattler] Feed plays an important role at weaning because it’s a period of stress for young animals. Their immune systems are still developing and at weaning they no longer receive antibodies from sow’s milk. Transition to feed reduces their immune response and makes them more susceptible to pathogens such as E. coli that lead to post-weaning diarrhoea.
Feed strategies can go a long way to reducing this stress. One area to investigate is the composition of basal feed, which is part of one work package in the AVANT project.
Dr. Verity Ann Sattler
BIOMIN is also involved in another promising area, gut microbiota modulation, which can reduce an animal’s susceptibility to infection through a variety of documented modes of action, such as interaction with the mucosa to regulate an animal’s immune response, or suppressing inflammation. Production of organic acids in the intestine supports digestibility and creates a less hospitable environment for pathogens.
Modulation of the commensal gut microbiota involves shifting the balance of existing microbes to have a more beneficial balance (eubiosis), which reduces the likelihood of disease and the need for intervention.
[Feedinfo] Why is BIOMIN a good fit for the AVANT project?
[Verity Ann Sattler] We were honoured to be asked to participate in the AVANT Project consortium, and believe it is a reflection of BIOMIN’s commitment, reputation and dedication to science.
BIOMIN can contribute significant know-how and in-house research capabilities to the AVANT project, as evidenced by our more than 100 scientists and researchers at the BIOMIN Research Centre in Tulln, Austria. It’s our longstanding focus on science-based solutions for livestock, combined with in-depth knowledge of the industry and customers’ needs, that positions us to address this topic in a meaningful way.
We also have an existing suite of gut performance and mycotoxin risk management solutions backed by science which allows us to examine the issue from a variety of angles using state-of-the-art technologies.
[Feedinfo] BIOMIN will be testing a novel feed additive as part of the project. What will the experiment involve, and what outcomes do you expect to see?
[Verity Ann Sattler] Within the ‘Work Package 1’’on gut microbiome modulators, BIOMIN will conduct test several feed additive prototypes in a mild E. coli challenge in vivo trial that mimics real-world conditions to identify which one is most effective in combatting post-weaning diarrhoea. We hope to identify the combination of modes of action that will deliver the best results in real commercial settings. At a later stage, these results will be compared against other types of strategies in the AVANT project and evaluated on their results.
Overall, the BIOMIN participation in the AVANT project allows us to work with key players in Europe to investigate and address a pressing issue facing pig producers in a way that allows us to build our knowledge and further expand our commercial offering of leading, proprietary gut performance management tools.
Published in association with BIOMIN