New EU project promotes safer farming practices and healthier food

January 12, 2005

Brussels, 11 Jan 2005

Following on the success of the RUMEN-UP project, which looked into safe plant alternatives to antibiotics in animal feed for ruminants, the European Commission is now funding the REPLACE project to move the research agenda forward by extending the study to poultry, pigs and fish.

From the end of 2005, the EU will ban the use of growth-promoting antibiotics (GPAs) in farming. Producers of pigs, chickens and fish are currently those most dependent on GPAs, and the antibiotic withdrawal will have a massive impact on their farming practices. It is therefore essential that substitutes for GPAs be identified if EU producers are to maintain profitability and competitiveness against overseas producers where such restrictions do not exist.

Speaking to CORDIS News, John Wallace, the project coordinator of the REPLACE project from the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, explained the reason behind the EU's decision.

'There is evidence that, for at least one antibiotic used for growth promotion in farm animals, a transmissible drug resistance factor arose that jumped to bacteria, which caused infection in man. The human infection would no longer respond to structurally related therapeutic antibiotics used to fight infection in man. Thus, in order to avoid this potential threat to antibiotic therapy in humans, the EU decided to ban all GPAs from the end of 2005,' said Dr Wallace.

'If successful, REPLACE will avoid the problem of antibiotic resistance transferring from animals to humans by providing natural plant extracts which can act as safe growth promoters,' Dr Wallace told CORDIS News.

REPLACE, which stands for 'plants and their extracts and other natural alternatives to antimicrobials in feeds', is funded under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), and brings together 11 partners from nine European countries. The project will run for four years.

As Dr Wallace explained, the RUMEN-UP project was extremely successful. Some 23 out of the 500 samples of plant materials studied by the project were found to have potential beneficial effects in ruminants.

'After RUMEN-UP, REPLACE will try to diversify the applications and extend the study to pigs, aquaculture and poultry,' Dr Wallace said.

The samples collected for RUMEN-UP will thus be tested for properties not screened in the original project. Their possible impact on human and animal health (E. coli, parasites), food quality (saturated fatty acids versus conjugated linoleic acid) and efficient use of natural resources (increased forage use by ruminants) will be investigated.

The work on ruminants will focus on improving the content of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in beef, lamb and dairy products. 'The fat in ruminants includes both saturated fatty acid, which is not beneficial to health, and CLA, which is health promoting as it decreases the susceptibility of cancer and heart diseases and promotes immune responses,' Dr Wallace told CORDIS News. 'The primary aim of our research is therefore to try to decrease the amount of saturated fatty acid in milk and meat and increase the concentration of CLA.'

When it comes to poultry, research will concentrate on infections such as Campylobacter, which is easily transmitted to humans, and Clostridium perfringens, which gives chickens gastroenteritis, causing major losses. REPLACE will search for plant-based products able to counter those infections, which will then be tested and screened for safety.

In aquaculture, high population densities in fish farming tend to cause infections currently treated with antibiotics. Natural plant extracts able to cure specific pathogens are therefore urgently needed.

For European pig farmers, two major threats to profitability are E.coli and failure to thrive resulting from infection by Lawsonia. REPLACE will, therefore, look for substances that can treat these diseases at the crucial stages of their development.

'REPLACE will strengthen the competitiveness of European biotechnology and food production, give consumers healthier food with fewer artificial additives, and promote a more natural style of farming,' concluded Dr Wallace.

For further information on the REPLACE project, please visit:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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