Concerns over EFSA recommendation on copper levels in feed

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The European Commission has told an EU committee that EFSA’s opinion recommending a reduction in the currently authorized maximum copper content levels in complete feed has generated a lot of reaction within industry and trade associations.

The Authority’s Panel on Additives and Products or Substances used in Animal Feed (FEEDAP) adopted a scientific opinion revising maximum levels of copper (Cu) in feed at its plenary in Brussels in July this year.

The FEEDAP panel said the reduction of Cu in feed for piglets from 170 mg/kg to 25 mg/kg would see a reduction in total Cu emissions from farm animal production by about 20%.   

But the Commission told a meeting of the animal nutrition and veterinary medicines (ANVM) section of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF) earlier this month that stakeholders have significant concerns about the EFSA opinion, particularly the recommended reductions in Cu for piglets - from 170 to 25mg/kg feed – and, to a lesser extent, for bovines - from 35 to 30mg/kg feed.

The topic will be discussed again at the October meeting of the SCoPAFF group.

“I am very surprised that this reduction in copper content is proposed,” Jan Fledderus, innovation manager piglets, Nutrition Innovation Center, ForFarmers Group, told this publication last month.

He said the conclusion of a 2015 study at Wageningen University by Bikker et al, partly financed by the feed industry and the Dutch government, was that the addition of 25 mg Cu/kg is sufficient to avoid Cu related deficiency problems in piglets, but that there is a very strong positive linear response on growth and feed efficiency when Cu contents are increased up to 170 mg/kg.

“Any reduction of the copper content will increase the environmental pollution, since more feed will be needed to realize the same piglet performance. In addition, it is also likely [that there would be] an increase in mortality when the Cu content will be reduced to maximum of 25 mg/kg.

And the positive effect of Cu on growth performance and feed efficiency are not restricted to the weaner phase,” argued Fledderus.

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Background to EFSA opinion

The Commission had asked EFSA to issue an opinion on the maximum content of compounds of Cu in feed that would fully meet the animals’ nutritional needs for Cu as a trace element and would also be safe for the animals, the consumer and the environment.

The working group (WG) of the FEEDAP tasked with the mandate had to evaluate the relationship between levels of dietary Cu in animals and differences in their gastrointestinal microbiota to see if there was a need to amend the levels of Cu for use in feed.

In July Jürgen Gropp, chair of that WG, said extensive data collection, acquired through procurement, helped the experts in their assessment and allowed them to identify Cu levels that it believes are “necessary from a nutritional point of view”.

The group, he said, had to take into account the environmental impact of Cu residues in soil, particularly from piglet husbandry, while also ensuring there would no negative impact on animal welfare, safety and productivity from a reduction in Cu levels allowed in feed.

report, commissioned as part of the EFSA procurement exercise and published in May, found that Cu, even at low concentrations in feed, can affect the gut microbiota profile of pigs and broilers.

"It may be concluded from the experiments that supplementing piglet (and growing pigs) diet with low additional copper amounts, below 50 mg/kg Cu, seems to inhibit the population of coliform bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT)," noted the report.

When supplemented to the feed in amounts above 100 mg/kg feed, Cu does not seem to have any effect on the population of coliform bacteria in pigs. The report also found feeding the mineral to piglets and growing pigs at concentrations of 170mg/kg of feed reduces the population of lactobacilli in their gastrointestinal tract.  

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