A Collaborative Approach Can Ensure Feed Safety

Feed safety is relatively a newer concept in the Indian market. With stringent regulations coming in place, it is mandatory to focus on safe feed production to ensure safe food. To gain valuable insights, Think Grain Think Feed connected with Dr. Pradeep Mahajan, a renowned feed safety expert. He discussed the concept of feed safety from an Indian perspective and proposed actionable steps to improve and grow.

How do you define feed safety?
Food safety & feed safety have been defined by many different standards and statutory bodies all over the world. I would like to combine thoughts from these different sources and say that feed safety means assurance that the feed is safe for animals and is fit for its intended purpose while also ensuring that it helps produce human food which is safe and fit for its intended purpose in human nutrition.

This means that we not only have to consider the well-being of animals consuming feed but also ensure that the food produced by or using those animals remains safe for human consumption and also serves its intended purpose.

What are the recent threats in the Indian system and what solutions do you suggest to overcome them?
I wouldn’t call it a “recent” threat, but being in the tropics, mycotoxins is a perennial problem in India, it is being exacerbated by climate change and the consequent unseasonal rains, cycles of droughts, and excess rainfalls.

These same changes are also causing poor crop immunity, attack of insect pests on crops, and therefore indiscriminate use of pesticides, resulting in residues in feed ingredients.
These are complex problems that need to be tackled at all levels and must involve multidisciplinary actions to ensure safe feed. These include breeding and selection of seeds for disease resistance, proper cultivation practices and judicious use of pesticides, right post-harvest handling and care, and safe storage and transportation. Above all, training and sensitization of all stakeholders involved in the chain, starting from farmers, traders, stockists, and feed millers is paramount.

What measures are in place to prevent contamination of feed ingredients?
I just outlined the measures required. A part of it is in place, but many things are missing. The situation is different from region to region and ingredient to ingredient. But some things, like the use of fungus-resistant crop varieties, and the use of atoxigenic fungi for competitive exclusion which has been used successfully elsewhere in the world are not that common in India. Proper storage depends on the availability of suitable infrastructure, which is a problem in many places. Though this is improving at a fast pace, we still have a distance to go.

How do you monitor and control contaminants, such as mycotoxins, heavy metals, and pesticides, in the feed, how frequently are tests conducted, and what specific contaminants are routinely tested for?
I generally advocate having an ingredients-tests matrix specifying which contaminants need to be tested in which ingredients and at what frequency. Of course, this matrix needs to be reviewed from time to time and from season to season. Collecting specific information about the crop season, problems faced, and outcomes, also helps in tweaking this matrix. For example, if you know which were the widespread and common crop diseases during a season and general use of chemicals and pesticides to control those, then we can design an effective program for monitoring, for that season. It is simply not possible to check every ingredient lot for every possible contaminant. Both the economics and availability of laboratory infrastructure do not allow us to do so. That said, aflatoxins, ochratoxin, fumonisin, DON, and zeralenone are routinely tested. Among heavy metals, some, like arsenic and mercury are more commonly tested than others. Unfortunately, testing for pesticide residue hasn’t yet become common for feed ingredients, at least it is not at the level that it should be.

Can you share an example of a challenging situation where effective risk management played a crucial role in ensuring feed safety?
There have been many challenging situations, but one that comes to mind, from a recent period is contamination of multiple ingredients with rapeseed meal. It should be called adulteration as it was deliberately done by many entities involved in the manufacture/supply of protein ingredients like oil meals or extractions. A comprehensive risk management program involving the selection and audit of suppliers, their sensitization, pre-shipment sampling, and thorough sampling and testing program helped in curtailing the threat.

Please throw some light on the role of HACCP in ensuring feed safety.
HACCP is a very well-established system for analyzing and controlling biological, chemical, and physical hazards and is applied in all stages like the production of raw materials, procurement, storage, and production processes inside the organization. It is practiced diligently in food production and also, a part of our industry, dealing with food products like milk and meat. Unfortunately, it has not been adopted by the feed industry in India to a great extent. It is a useful tool in identifying possible hazards and mitigating the risk scientifically. It helps in establishing critical limits, monitoring procedures, corrective actions, verification, and documentation.

What is the role of feed mill hygiene and biosecurity in minimizing the risk of contamination?
Biological hazards associated with feed, like salmonella, listeria, chlostridia, prions, etc. are serious threats to food and feed safety. Hygiene and biosecurity measures are extremely important in preventing contamination of feed with these microbes. Every feed mill should have established protocols for hygiene and biosecurity.

What is the significance of implementing safety audits?
We live in an ever-changing world and therefore, new challenges will keep coming. A good safety audit not only ensures adherence to laid-down procedures and protocols but also aims to find any gaps in the procedures and need for review. It is a great way to win and maintain consumer confidence.