Annual Report 2016DEENCN

Connecting with the Future:
Good Bacteria in Animal Feed


The interior of a poultry pen is a scene of turbulence created by thousands of broiler chickens milling about. Nonetheless, when a chicken farm supervisor makes his rounds, he can see very quickly whether or not the animals are healthy. If he observes unusual behavior or discovers any sick animals, he has to call in a veterinarian. In cases of bacterial infections, antibiotics are used to prevent the infection from spreading.

Probiotics from Evonik help to stabilize the intestinal flora of chickens.

Some illnesses develop without any conspicuous symptoms and are therefore easily overlooked. One example is the widespread “subclinical necrotic enteritis,” which is caused by Clostridium perfringens bacteria. If these bacteria overrun a chicken’s digestive system, they damage its intestinal wall. The sick chicken then continues to feed but stops growing normally—and infects other animals. This carries considerable risks for the breeder, because chickens’ feed utilization is one of the most important factors in the profitability of his business. Experts estimate that this illness does several billion dollars’ worth of damage to worldwide poultry breeding every year.

As a result, from the 1950s onward poultry breeders customarily put antibiotics into their poultry feed to act as “growth promoters” and protect their animals from illnesses such as subclinical necrotic enteritis. Today scientists say that this practice is partly responsible for the increased incidence of multiresistant bacteria in human beings. The infections caused by these bacteria are almost impossible to treat with existing antibiotics. Consequently, the use of antibiotic growth promoters has been banned in the European Union since 2006. As part of its global action plan against antibiotic resistance, the World Health Organization is calling for a cautious use of antibiotics for animals. The retail trade and the hospitality industry are also reacting. In the USA, many supermarkets and restaurant chains are now advertising the fact that they offer meat from animals that have not been given any antibiotics.

However, this does not prevent the proliferation of undetected illnesses in poultry pens, with all of their dire consequences. One way to prevent such illnesses is to use bacteria called probiotics, which stabilize the intestinal flora. Probiotics are living microorganisms that are fed to livestock such as chickens as a feed additive and form colonies in the animals’ intestines.

According to various estimates, about $1 billion was spent globally on probiotics for animal feed in 2016. Experts predict that sales of probiotics will grow between six and ten percent annually. Evonik aims to play a leading role in this market in the future. “Thanks to our experience with amino acids, we are thoroughly familiar with the nutritional needs of farm animals. The animal feed industry appreciates us as an expert partner,” says Christoph Kobler, who is responsible for sustainable healthy nutrition at Evonik’s Animal Nutrition Business Line. “We want to offer our customers excellent products and to support them with tailor-made services and our comprehensive knowledge.” Thanks to increasing prosperity, more and more people all over the world can afford to include meat in their diets. In 2015 alone, about 320 million tons of meat were produced globally, with about 115 million tons coming from poultry. And the demand is growing.

Probiotics from Evonik are also used in pig farming.
Salmon farming off the coast of Iceland—a possible area of application for probiotics from Evonik.

In the summer of 2016, Evonik acquired the probiotics business of the Spanish company NOREL, which, among other things, manufactures products for chicken and piglet farms as well as for aquaculture. A marketing authorization application has been filed for the aquaculture products; the two other product groups are already available on the European market. In addition, through its in-house research Evonik has developed a new product for chicken feed that it will begin marketing in the USA and China in 2017 under the name GutCare® PY1. This product contains spores of a special strain of bacteria called Bacillus subtilis, which inhibit the growth of the pathogen that causes subclinical necrotic enteritis.

Other products are set to follow. As Evonik develops them, it is making good use of its research expertise. So far, scientists have only begun to understand exactly how probiotics work. Evonik aims to be the world’s first company to offer its customers a new generation of probiotics of proven effectiveness that have been customized to meet the customers’ needs. Evonik scientists are working on an innovative intestine simulation model at the company’s facility in Halle-Künsebeck, Germany. The model aims to biochemically mimic the digestive process in a chicken’s entire gastrointestinal tract and demonstrate the effects of feed additives. The project is part of the innovation alliance “Good Bacteria and Bioactives in Industry” (GOBI), which is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.*

“A chicken’s intestinal tract is home to more than 100 billion bacteria. As a result, the mechanisms that take place here are extremely complex,” explains Peter Freisler, who is responsible for the business with products for maintaining the intestinal health of livestock. “The aim of the Evonik model is to use a laboratory setting to find out how probiotics work and how they influence the health of farm animals. These findings will make it easier to use our products optimally later on.”
For Evonik, entering the probiotics market is an initial step. “We are now looking at the health of farm animals comprehensively and from every possible perspective,” explains Kobler. “Our goal is to find solutions that make animal nutrition, and thus meat production, healthy and sustainable.”
This will benefit animal breeders and consumers— and also the chicken in the pens.

* The subproject “Good Bacteria and Bioactives in Industry – GOBI-FEED” is supported under the funding code 031B0074C by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the funding program “Innovation Initiative for Industrial Biotechnology.”