8 March 2002

French trials show true potential of inoculants

Advances in silage

inoculants could improve

food safety and help tailor

milk and meat products to

specific markets,

according to French trials.

Simon Wragg reports

INOCULANTS are often used to achieve a satisfactory fermentation of silage material, but trials in France have begun to illustrate a potential to do much more.

Olivier Clech, general manager of inoculant maker Lallemand Animal Nutrition, told journalists on a fact-finding mission that he believed some products could enhance food safety and the physical characteristics of dairy and meat products.

Lallemand – which bought UK-based company Biotal last year – has an 85-year history of developing and producing yeast, bacteria and microbiological treatments, initially for the wine and bread industries. "Yet we are only just beginning to discover the potential applications for some bacteria," said Mr Clech, who is based in Toulouse.

The companys trials, using bacteria selected for use in inoculants, demonstrate an ability to restrict the growth of harmful agents within forage silos, such as listeria, a major concern for the sheep sector.

Applications will not be restricted to forages. "Already, feed compounders are looking at using this technology," said Mr Clech.

The arguments for use of bacterial treatments are strong, particularly for improving food safety. Producers must lead the way in its adoption, said the company, which recognises the current burden of regulation already facing producers.

"We do not want to force its introduction. Producers must see the potential and use it to advantage," added Mr Clech.

For producers supplying commodity markets such as milk, the advantages include an opportunity to differentiate product within an over-supplied market. Taste panel trials in France have already identified improvements in taste and texture of dairy products such as cream, says Lallemand.

Meat products could also benefit. In-feed treatments are being used in the production of hams to influence fat depth, colour, cutting quality and tenderness. "Our work with Fleury Michon – the second largest ham processor in France – is demonstrating the opportunity to add value.

"But we are conscious that producers must get a reward for investing in technology. The extra margin must be shared with producers," he emphasised.

Some developments will take time to filter into agriculture. The cost of registering bacterial products for use in agriculture and human nutrition can be considerable. Licensing a silage inoculant can vary from k100,000-k1.5m, says the company. Plans to introduce a EU-wide registration scheme could add to costs, it adds

Already, Lallemand is using DNA fingerprinting techniques to standardise the supply of specific strains of bacteria as routine. "There are 180 different strains of the single bacteria S cerevisiae of which 150 are used in wine making.

"Customers want to know they have got the right strain and DNA testing allows us to prove it," said Mr Clech.