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Safe animal feed is important for the health of animals, the environment and for the safety of foods of animal origin. There are many examples of the close link between the safety of animal feed and the foods we eat. For instance, mammalian meat and bone meal (MBM) was banned from all farm animal feed in the EU in 2001 because it was linked to the spread of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and BSE infected meat was associated with the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) in humans.

What farmers feed to livestock depends on a range of factors including the species and age of animals, the type of food produced - such as meat, milk or eggs - the price, availability and nutritive value of different feedstuffs and geographical factors including soil type and climate. Types of feed include fodder - such as hay, straw, silage, oils and grains – and manufactured products which are typically compound mixtures of feed materials that may contain additives.

Feed additives

Feed additives play an important role in modern agriculture and are a focus of the EU regulatory framework. They are products used in animal nutrition to improve the characteristics of feed, for instance to enhance flavour or to make feed materials more readily digestible. They are often used in intensive farming production on a large scale. A company wishing to put a feed additive on the EU market must obtain prior authorisation. As part of this process, EFSA evaluates the safety and efficacy of each additive and checks for adverse effects on human and animal health and on the environment - see below.
Feed additives include:

  • Technological additives - e.g. preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, stabilising agents, acidity regulators, silage additives
  • Sensory additives - e.g. flavours, colorants
  • Nutritional additives - e.g. vitamins, aminoacids, trace elements
  • Zootechnical additives - e.g. digestibility enhancers, gut flora stabilizers
  • Coccidiostats and histomonostats

EU legislation

The European legislation on animal feed provides a framework for ensuring that feedstuffs do not present any danger to human or animal health or to the environment. It includes rules on the circulation and use of feed materials, requirements for feed hygiene, rules on undesirable substances in animal feed, legislation on genetically modified food and feed and conditions for the use of additives in animal nutrition.

EFSA’s role in the evaluation of feed additives

EFSA has a key role in providing independent scientific advice to support the authorisation process for feed additives. This work is carried out by EFSA’s Panel on additives and products or substances used in animal feed (FEEDAP). Co-operating with the European Commission, the Panel carries out an evaluation of each new additive submitted for authorisation. Companies wishing to market a specific additive in the EU need to submit an application with information on the identity of the additive, its conditions of use, control methods and data demonstrating its efficacy and safety.

The FEEDAP Panel reviews this information and examines the efficacy and safety of the additive in terms of animal and human health as well as the environment, including residues in soil, ground water and surface water. In parallel, the Community Reference Laboratory for feed additives evaluates the analytical methods used to determine the presence of the additive in feed and its possible residues in food.

If EFSA’s Opinion is favourable, the European Commission prepares a draft Regulation to authorise the additive, in a procedure involving Member States represented in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health - Animal Nutrition. Authorisations are granted for specific animal species and/or conditions of use and are limited to ten-year periods which may be renewed.

EFSA's other work on animal feed

Other EFSA Panels also carry out risk assessments concerning animal feed within their specialised fields. This includes contamination of animal feed by substances regulated by EU legislation and issues such as cross-contamination of feed by coccidiostats (CONTAM Panel). It also covers the use of GMO’s in or as animal feeds (GMO Panel) and issues related to the materials banned from animal feed under TSE/BSE regulations (BIOHAZ Panel).

Gossypol contamination in animal feed – CONTAM Panel

Gossypol is a defence compound produced by cotton plants against pests. Since cottonseeds are rich in oil and proteins, they are often used as feed supplements. However, gossypol is listed as an undesirable substance in animal feed and its levels are regulated in Annex I of EU Directive 2002/32/EC.

The European Commission asked EFSA’s CONTAM Panel to assess the risks posed to animal health by the presence of free gossypol – the easily extractable form of gossypol – in feed. The Panel also assessed the risks to human health following the consumption of animal products containing gossypol residues.

The main target organ of gossypol toxicity after long term exposure in mammals, including humans, is the testis with reduced sperm production and motility. The opinion, adopted in December 2008, concluded that monogastric animals such as pigs and rabbits are the most sensitive species to gossypol toxicity, whereas ruminants are more tolerant.

There is a lack of data on gossypol content in feed and carry over in animal products. However the imports of cottonseeds into the EU have declined in recent years and relatively little is used as feed. Furthermore, the processing of commercial cottonseeds using heating and steam, a common practice in the EU, considerably reduces the levels of gossypol. The CONTAM panel concluded that maximum legislated levels of gossypol in feed would not result in any adverse effect on animal health. Similarly, residues in animal products would be very unlikely and would not affect human health. For more information see: Opinion on gossypol as undesirable substance in animal feed .

Mercury contamination in animal feed - CONTAM Panel

In February 2008, the CONTAM Panel adopted an Opinion on the presence of Mercury in animal feed. Mercury is a naturally occurring element released into the environment from a variety of sources including human activities. Methylmercuryis the most common organic mercury compound in the environment. It bioaccumulates and biomagnifies along the food chain, particularly in the aquatic food chain, and is readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract of animals and humans which can lead to kidney damage and can impact on neurological development.

The most common source of mercury in animal feed is fishmeal - a high-protein supplement produced from the waste from fisheries or fish not suitable for human consumption.The Panel found that the large majority of feed samples analysed in the Member States had concentrations below the maximum levels set in EU legislation. It is unlikely thateven the domestic animals most sensitive to methylmercury toxicity - cat and mink – are exposed to toxic levels through commercial feed. The Panel also found that the highest levels of mercury reported in farmed salmon are around five times lower than the EU maximum level set to assure the safety of consumers. For more information see: Opinion on mercury as undesirable substance in animal feed .

TSE risks of feeding ruminants with fishmeal - BIOHAZ Panel

One of the BIOHAZ Panel’s tasks is to advise risk managers on TSE/BSE issues, including the scientific factors underpinning EU rules on the materials banned from inclusion in animal feed. Fishmeal was banned from ruminant feed under the TSE regulations because of the difficulties of detecting meat and bone meal in feed containing fishmeal if any cross contamination were to occur. In February 2007 EFSA issued an Opinion in response to the European Parliament on the state of play as regards the health risks of feeding fishmeal to ruminants in relation to TSE and if this could have negative consequences in terms of public health. The request related to the process of revising the EU rules, whereby risk managers were considering the possibility of permitting feeding fishmeal to young ruminants and introducing a tolerance level for fishmeal in feed for adult cattle under strict conditions. For more information see: Opinion on the assessment of the health risks of feeding of ruminants with fishmeal in relation to the risk of TSE.

Assessing the environmental risks of feed additives: FEEDAP Panel

Feed additives are often used in intensive farming production over long periods of time, and many are readily excreted into the surrounding environment. Assessing potential risks to the environment is therefore an important part of the risk assessment process. In March 2007, the FEEDAP Panel adopted an opinion on the development of a harmonised scientific approach for assessing such risks to the environment. It proposed a methodology to predict the concentrations of feed additives in animals that takes account of current agricultural and aquaculture practices in the EU. Industry, trade associations, national and international feed safety authorities and risk assessment experts were consulted before the document was adopted. EFSA’s proposal was submitted to the European Commission for use in drafting new guidelines on the risk assessment of feed additives, which is the responsibility of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. For more information see: Opinion on the development of anapproach for the environmental risk assessment of additives, products and substances used in animal feed.

Risk assessment of GM feed - GMO Panel

Many of the GMO applications evaluated by EFSA are primarily intended for use in animal feed, for instance the applications for various types of GM maize and soybean. Animal feed made of or containing GMOs is regulated in the EU by Directive 2001/18/EC on the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs and Regulation (EC) No1829/2003 on GM food and feed. Companies applying to place a GMO on the EU market must specify in the scope of the application whether it is intended for use in food and/or animal feed, as well as other uses such as import, processing or cultivation. This is made transparent in the information EFSA publishes on the GMO applications it receives. In its risk assessments the GMO Panel examines:

  • the molecular characterisation of the GM product, taking into account the characteristics of the donor and recipient organism,
  • the compositional, nutritional, and agronomic characteristics of the GM product,
  • the potential toxicity and allergenicity of the GM product,
  • the potential environmental impact following a deliberate release of the GM product.

EFSA has also received a number of applications for feed additives produced from genetically modified microorganisms, including the enzyme preparations Natuphos® (3-phytase), Phyzyme XP (6- Phytase) and Phytase SP 1002 (3-phytase). The GMO Panel has issued joint Opinions with the FEEDAP Panel on the safety and efficacy of these feed additives.


Related links


Scientific Documents  
Saponins in Madhuca Longifolia as undesirable substances in animal feed

Published: 23 February 2009  Adopted: 29 January 2009

Consequences for the consumer of the use of vitamin A in animal nutrition

Published: 2 February 2009  Adopted: 19 November 2008