Healthy by nature
Alongside Delacon, Cargill expands its natural feed additives for animal health
January 02, 2019
What do common household foods like garlic, black pepper and thyme have in common with the bark of the rare quillaja tree in Chile? It turns out, all of them can support livestock in various ways.
That’s the concept behind Austrian company Delacon, in which Cargill Animal Nutrition made a strategic investment last year. The firm’s phytogenics—or natural feed additives derived from plants—improve digestion of feed and support the intestine, enabling animals to better convert nutrients into body protein, milk and eggs. And because they also keep the animals healthier, they lower the use of antibiotics. In fact, cutting antibiotic use in animal agriculture is a central mission of the company.
“That was a long shot when my father founded the company 30 years ago,” said Markus Dedl, Delacon’s CEO. “It’s a vision that’s ever more valid today: helping the world change how we raise animals in a healthy and sustainable way.”
This is something that resonates strongly with consumers. A recent Cargill survey indicated that U.S. consumers, for instance, are three times more likely to prefer protein from animals fed natural feed additives like Delacon’s. Among millennials, 62 percent said they want their protein raised on the same natural supplements that humans use, rather than antibiotics.
It may sound simple enough to feed plant extracts to animals, but the botanical world is vast and complex. How does the team sift through it to identify compounds from both common and rare sources, and determine how they interact with an animal’s physiology?
The process is painstaking. The team at Delacon combs through the hundreds of new scientific publications released every year, networks with a diverse group of ingredient suppliers around the globe, and evaluates broad groups of plant extracts and their bioactive properties through in vitro and in vivo experiments. This includes more than 7,500 compounds and information about their modes of action.
Often, new products are developed by assembling “building blocks” of compounds with known effects to see how they combine to an animal’s benefit.
“Because we know about the chemical structures and modes of action of individual compounds, we have a sense of which ones could work well with one another to improve the efficacy of our products. There is tremendous potential in this area,” said Karola Wendler, who leads ingredient sourcing for Delacon and previously led the research team for almost a decade.
Delacon invests 10 percent of annual revenue into research and development. A good deal of the investigations take place at the company’s Performing Nature Research Center in the Czech Republic, where about 30 trials are conducted annually.
At the center, Delacon scientists look at the health and wellness of animals, but also at factors like how well they digest and use nutrients, reductions in pathogens like Salmonella, and declines in the amount of emissions from the animal that can impact the environment. For instance, Delacon’s products have been shown to reduce methane from cows by up to 20 percent, and ammonia from chickens and pigs by up to 50 percent. The center has 12 hermetically sealed chambers for this type of highly sensitized emissions testing.
Acknowledging the progress Delacon has made to become the market leader in the phytogenics category, Jan Dirk van der Klis, Delacon’s director of product development and innovation, is also excited at the prospect of what’s yet to come.
“The phytogenic universe comprises a wide variety of potential ingredients with numerous modes of action. We still consider ourselves to be at the beginning of a large discovery journey,” he said.