J. A. Davidson, P. Ag, PAS is a Livestock Nutritionist with Bar-D Agri-Ventures in Minnedosa, Manitoba
A recent comment in Alberta Farmer argued the safety of the Canadian feed industry and its relationship to human food safety. It is important that the general public understand that the suggestion by Rick Holley (professor, food microbiology/food safety University of Manitoba) that simply stopping the recycling animal byproducts through the feed industry will not significantly lower the incidence of salmonella.
I have worked as a livestock nutritionist in Western Canada for over 30 years. I have seen no practical evidence that the incidence of bacterial contamination of livestock feeds is any worse now than it was in 1975.
Government protocols for feed testing have changed, with a shift from ensuring guaranteed tag analysis are sustained to a more focused health system, where the inspection program has concentrated on monitoring bacterial loads and compliance with drug regulations. This in itself has probably increased the number of tests conducted for bacterial contamination exponentially.
The harder you look for something the more chance you have of finding it. Therefore, reported incidents of contamination are increased. Before last summer we never thought of listeria, now we hear of a listeria-linked recall on an almost weekly basis.
Salmonella and E. coli are a fact of life. They have probably existed on Earth longer than mankind. The feed industry has to deal with the problem, not on the basis of laboratory theory, but on the basis of practical control.
Holley suggests that we cease feeding animal byproducts. Experience within the industry has shown that one of the most common sources of salmonella is soybean meal. Feed mills that use no animal byproducts sometimes do test positive for salmonella.
How can we stop the presence of salmonella or E. coli in the livestock feeding industry? The only way would be to autoclave 100 per cent of all feed. Most commercial mills use tens of thousands of tonnes of possibly 20 to 30 different bulk ingredients and hundreds of bagged specialty products a year. We cannot guarantee 100 per cent purity; it simply isn’t reasonable. A zero tolerance system would put food from livestock sources beyond the budget of most Canadian families.
As an industry, we do guarantee a total commitment to control. We buy raw ingredients such as animal byproducts from trusted processors. We have equipment designed to reduce bacterial contamination such as high pressure steam conditioners on pellet mills used to process broiler feeds (Holley points out that a high percentage of poultry meat may be contaminated with salmonella). The industry has developed specific additives based on volatile acids that can kill bacteria in non-pelleted rations. We have protocols for ensuring bins and equipment receive regular inspections and cleaning. The Animal Nutrition Association of Canada has a long-term relationship with the CFIA and works with government to maintain a safe food chain.
Removing byproducts from the equation creates its own problems. Where do we dispose of millions of tonnes of feathers, blood, hair, and internal organs? How do we prevent this material from contaminating the ground and water? And who will pay? The only question with a known answer is the last. We all know that you will pay.
The Canadian feed industry is a strong industry that practices the highest level of food safety. We are a green industry that recycles millions and millions of tonnes of non-human quality foodstuffs each year. We are a significant part of the reason that Canada is one of the safest and most economical producers of food in the world. The Canadian feed industry is not part of the food safety problem; we are a significant part of the solution.