3 August 2001

Pig & poultry fishmeal ban?

By Marianne Curtis

FISHMEAL, already excluded from ruminant diets, may also be banned from use in pig and poultry diets next year.

But that might have serious implications for animal productivity and welfare.

Continuing BSE problems on the Continent mean there is pressure to tighten up legislation concerning animal waste by-products which include fishmeal, says NFU input adviser Jonathan Pettit.

"There is a distinct possibility that fishmeal will be banned in pig and poultry diets from Jan 1. This is because procedures to guard against cross contamination with meat and bonemeal are not in place across the Continent."

In the UK, an accurate laboratory test is used to differentiate between fishmeal and meat and bonemeal, says Mr Pettit. "This is routinely used by importers and compounders. But it has not yet been accepted by the EU and approval could take some time, meaning a ban is likely. Our BSE history means we are unlikely to be granted a derogation. "But the UK has strict controls in place and there is no scientific basis for a ban on fishmeal, which has no adverse implications for human or animal health."

In 2000, UK fishmeal consumption amounted to 290,000t, 14% of which went into pig diets, 30% into poultry diets and 10% was fed to ruminants. The rest was fed to farmed fish, says a Fishmeal Information Network spokesperson.

Fishmeal is a particularly important ingredient in diets for pigs weighing up to 30kg, says nutritionist and Aberdeen University lecturer Vernon Fowler. "Animal proteins such as fishmeal or dairy products are more easily digested by young pigs than vegetable proteins.

"As the European milk mountains have disappeared, dairy products have become scarce for use in animal feed, so fishmeal has replaced them. Fishmeal inclusion rates can be up to 15% in young pig diets, but are usually about 10%. It provides a digestible source of amino acids and minerals, particularly phosphate."

Although young pig diets could be formulated without using fishmeal, pigs would perform less well and alternative diets could compromise their immune system, says Dr Fowler.

"Formulations would require more use of synthetic amino acids, which are expensive, and highly refined vegetable proteins such as soya bean isolates. Vegetable proteins contain a factor which causes an allergic response in young pigs. Another option would be to wean pigs at an older age."

Removing fishmeal from young pig diets would increase cost by about £3-£4/t and reduce feed conversion efficiency by 3-4%, says ABN pig technical manager Simon Record.

"Should fishmeal be banned we will lose a useful raw material purely based on suspicions of fishmeal adulteration on the Continent, which does not happen in this country."

In poultry diets, achieving the correct amino acid balance without overdoing crude protein content will be difficult in the absence of fishmeal, says manager of ADAS Gleadthorpes poultry research team Andrew Walker. "Too much crude protein reduces food conversion efficiency. It can also mean broilers have to drink more water to flush excess nitrogen from the system. This can lead to litter problems and hock burn which means birds are downgraded at slaughter plants."

There is also anecdotal evidence that fishmeal helps prevent behavioural vices in layers, he says. "Producers like to include it in diets because it seems to reduce aggression and feather pecking in laying hens, although there is no scientific evidence for this."

As with pig diets, if fishmeal was banned, there could be heavier reliance on synthetic amino acids, which might prove a problem for organic producers, who are not allowed to use these, adds Mr Walker. &#42