Europe, and mainly the United Kingdom, in the nineties of the last century were facing a crisis when mad cow disease paralysed the animal industry. Cattle were fed ruminant remains that contained a protein (prion) that caused Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease. The big problem is that people can get the BSE related and lethal Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, if they eat infected beef.
So, with the knowledge of the nineties it was logic to ban all animal remains from all animal feed. Since then a lot of research has taken place and we now know that only ruminants are affected by the prions. Pigs and poultry could never be related to the disease. Still, these sectors have to suffer from the ban on mbm in feed the EU imposed ten years ago.
Meat and bone meal is a valuable raw material providing energy, protein, vitamins and minerals, which vary in levels, but that are very well digested by the animals. There is considerable variation in nutrient specifications from company to company. In a recent survey the National Renderers’ Association questioned several US feed manufacturers. Twenty-seven feed companies responded and the range in nutrient values for meat and bone meal was as follows:
3.0 – 11.2%
49.0 – 52.8%
8.5 – 14.8%
6.0 – 12.0%
3.5 – 5.0%
2.2 – 3.0%
Metabolizable energy for poultry
1,770 – 2,420 MCal/kg
Saving the rainforest
When mbm had to be taken out of the feed it was merely replaced by soybean products, which needed to be imported from Brazil. Because of the vast demand from Europe large areas were cultivated to satisfy the European demand. In his PhD thesis Emiel Elferink at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands calculated that because of the ban in Europe annually 16 million tonnes of mbm is replaced by 23 million tonnes of soybeans. Since the ban on mbm was installed the area planted with soybeans has increased from 10 million hectares in the eighties to more than 20 million hectares at the beginning of this century.
So, apart from the nutritional benefits putting mbm back into the feed this would also have an enormous environmental benefit as it would put less pressure on the rainforest in South America.
Another very strong argument is that pigs and poultry are omnivores, meaning they eat everything and if they have a choice, they do not restrict themselves to a vegetarian diet. Poultry in the wild, for example, peck for grubs and beetles to supplement their protein needs.
And with limited and ending sources of phosphorous mbm can contribute to the phosphorous supply in the feed reducing the need for rock phosphate.
Until today there are no signs that poultry and pigs are susceptible to BSE-like diseases. Scientists therefore assume that meat and bone meal from poultry and pigs can be used in feeds without any risks. Advocacy groups for agriculture lobby in Brussels to have mbm back in animal feed, but this is a slow and arduous route. Installing a law seems far more easy than to get rid of one.
The poorly informed general public, however, is worried about the return of mbm in feeds. Cannibalism is the hot word. From a theoretical standpoint I can understand the resistance of feeding animal remains to cattle, since these are herbivorous. Strangely enough these questions are not asked when fish meal is fed to fish.
But there is no ground to refrain pigs and poultry from eating meat and bone meal. To satisfy the general public politicians first want to ensure that only pig-mbm is fed to poultry and poultry-mbm to pigs. DNA test kits are already available to distinguish the differences. So this cannot be a reason for upholding the release of mbm again.
These DNA-limitations could dampen down the euphoria on the return of mbm in animal feeds. It would require a strict logistic organisation with separate channels for feeds with pig-mbm and feeds with poultry-mbm.
At present every feed for every livestock specie can be manufactured in one mill. With mbm returning separate production lines would be needed to make pig and poultry feed with mbm and ruminant feeds. Meat and bone meal is a cheap raw material, but when it may return in feeds under the above mentioned restrictions it can be questioned if these benefits result in cheaper feed.
I am curious to hear what opinion you have on this issue….
also wrote about this subject in 2007. Since then nothing has happened