The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has proposed changes to the level of copper that can be included in livestock and pet feeds due to concerns over possible links between mineral accumulation in the environment and antibiotic resistance in disease-causing organisms.
Adoption of the recommendation, which was published in the EFSA Journal, would mean a reduction in the maximum inclusion level in feeds for pigs up to 12 weeks of age from the current 170mg copper per kg of feed to just 25mg. Of all farmed species, this represents the biggest change.
These Newly Proposed Maximum Contents (NMPC) from EFSA’s Panel on Additives and Products or Substances used in Animal Feed (FEEDAP) are generally aimed to support the health, welfare and economic productivity of the animals. This applies to all the livestock groups except young pigs, whose performance will likely be negatively impacted, EFSA admits.
The main aim of the proposed changes is to reduce the amount of copper released into the environment in manure and slurry, while still meeting the animals’ nutritional requirement.
“The reduction from 170mg to 25mg copper per kg feed for piglets would have the capacity to save 1,200 metric tons of copper per year being spread in the field and thus, to reduce total copper emissions from farm animal production by about 20%,” according to the EFSA report.
As part of its study, samples of feed from EU countries were analyzed for total copper content. The great majority of samples — 87 and 80%, respectively — for fattening pigs and sows complied with the current maximum copper content of 25mg per kg feed, which is unchanged by the NMPC recommendation. For the piglet feed samples, 91% met the current standards but only around 10% contained the NMPC of 25mg copper per kg feed or less.
Historically, levels of copper included in feeds for pigs have been relatively high because of the mineral’s growth-promoting effects before antibiotics were routinely used for this purpose.
Concerns over copper
If adopted, the reduction in copper levels in pig feeds “would have a significant impact on the concentrations of copper in the environment of piggeries, which could potentially play a role in reducing antimicrobial resistance,” EFSA explains.
In reviewing data from EU Member States, published literature and trials it commissioned for the report, EFSA explored the link between the concentration of copper in soils and antibiotic resistance in soil bacteria.
“Some studies indicate – as one of several hypotheses – that the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance could potentially be linked to the genetic proximity of some antibiotic and copper resistance genes,” EFSA found.