Earth-Conscious Nutrition: Investigating the Trace Mineral Footprint.

Published on: January 31, 2024
Author: Biochem Team
Time: 7 min read

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In recent years, there has been growing public concern about the environmental damage caused by intensive livestock production. The livestock sector plays an important and growing role in the agricultural economy. Driven by growing populations and incomes, the demand for animal products is increasing. To meet this demand, production systems have been designed to achieve very high productivity at relatively low cost. In these systems, the provision of trace minerals to meet animal requirements is critical to maximize health and productivity.

It is well known that trace minerals are essential for the normal functioning of almost all biochemical processes in the body. They are part of numerous enzymes and are involved in the coordination of many biological processes. They are therefore essential for maintaining health and productivity, and an optimized diet with adequate levels of trace minerals ensures proper structural, physiological, catalytic, and regulatory functions (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The many essential functions of trace mineralsFigure 1: The many essential functions of trace minerals.

With this knowledge, livestock and poultry producers have increasingly incorporated trace mineral supplements into their diets to ensure peak health and performance. As a result, mineral supplementation strategies have quickly become complex. Moreover, because trace mineral levels are not as clear-cut as those for energy, protein, or amino acids, it can be difficult to determine their exact requirements. In fact, subclinical or marginal trace mineral deficiencies can be a bigger problem than expected because the signs are often vague and non-specific, leading the producer to overlook the deficiency altogether (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The effects of trace mineral deficiencies on health and productionFigure 2: The effects of trace mineral deficiencies on health and production.

Despite their necessity, trace minerals also have the potential for toxicity. Therefore, the balance of trace minerals is carefully regulated by the body. Trace mineral homeostasis uses two basic methods: controlling intestinal absorption and excreting any excess after absorption. The essential trace minerals zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), and iron (Fe) are regulated by absorption.

The Trace Mineral Footprint.

To ensure adequate intake of trace minerals, mineral recommendations often include large safety margins to account for variations in dietary intake, physiological status, and dietary antagonists. In addition, these safety margins are based on the low dietary availability of inorganic sources of trace minerals.

A noted effect of high inclusion rates of trace minerals in the diet was their action as a type of growth promoter. This was particularly true for Zn and Cu, which have antimicrobial effects at pharmacological doses. As the absorption of these elements is carefully regulated by the body, additional trace element supplementation in excess of physiological requirements will be excreted and may pose a threat to environmental health.

When organic fertilizers are applied to agricultural land, these trace minerals can accumulate in the soil. Pigs, poultry, and cattle are probably the most prominent species of environmental concern, and the most important minerals are Cu and Zn. For this reason, the maximum permitted levels of trace minerals in feed have been steadily reduced in recent years or, as in the case of zinc oxide in pharmacological doses, banned altogether.

There is clear evidence that animal feed is a major contributor to the accumulation of Zn and Cu in agricultural areas. It has been estimated that approximately 80-95% of Cu and Zn supplements are excreted to produce mineral-enriched manure, leading to increased metal concentrations in the soil. This has toxic effects on plants, microorganisms and other animal species, including:

  • The alteration of the soil microbiome and increased antimicrobial resistance

  • The impairment of plant growth and production

  • The accumulation of trace elements in edible animal and plant products

  • The accumulation of high levels of trace elements in the groundwater

As a result, much research is being done to find ways to reduce the impact of trace minerals on the environment without compromising animal performance. To achieve this, it is necessary to feed more precisely according to individual needs. Since an animal’s trace mineral requirements depend on its growth, development and production status, tailored supplementation strategies are needed to overcome deficiencies and promote optimal productivity. This can be achieved, for example, through multi-phase feeding strategies. Another strategy is to use trace mineral sources with the highest possible bioavailability.

The Power of Organically bound Trace Minerals.

Traditionally, inorganic trace mineral salts such as oxides and sulfates have been used in feed formulations to meet the mineral requirements of production animals. However, although they are relatively inexpensive, they have been found to be used inefficiently.

Research shows that the low pH of the upper gastrointestinal tract reduces the availability of inorganic salts like sulfates by causing dissociation. This makes the minerals susceptible to various nutrient and constituent antagonisms that impair absorption. In addition, trace minerals can form insoluble precipitates in the small intestine, making them unavailable for absorption.

Improving mineral utilization is an effective way to improve animal health and reduce environmental impact. Organic trace minerals—trace elements complexed with amino acids or small peptides—are increasingly being used in formulations in place of inorganic sources due to the apparent benefits of improved utilization.

Several theories have been proposed for the improved mineral availability of organic trace minerals. Complexing minerals with organic components increase mineral absorption in the gut by reducing the interaction between the mineral and other potential chelators. This may prevent the formation of insoluble complexes. The organic binding of the metals better protects them from adverse antagonistic effects in the gut and allows them to reach the intestinal wall and be absorbed.

In general, many studies over the past 30 years clearly show that organically bound trace minerals can enhance mineral absorption, increase tissue mineral concentrations, improve productivity, and reduce mineral excretion across species compared to inorganic forms of trace minerals. Therefore, formulating diets with high levels of bioavailable organic trace minerals is a strategy to reduce trace mineral excretion in animal waste.

E.C.O.Key Concept: Our Environmentally Friendly Trace Mineral Supplementation.

Biochem has many years of experience as an innovative manufacturer of organically bound trace minerals. Accordingly, we can boast a broad, customized product portfolio. With our B.I.O.Key® soy amino acid chelates and E.C.O.Trace® glycinates, we have successfully demonstrated a trace mineral precision feed concept that is comprehensively adapted to an animal’s needs and environmentally protective.

E.C.O.Trace® and B.I.O.Key® are organically bound trace minerals, which have many advantages over inorganic trace minerals. Trace minerals can only provide nutritional value to the animal if they are absorbed. Not only have E.C.O.Trace® glycinates and B.I.O.Key® soy amino acid chelates been used successfully in the feeding of high performance animals, but scientific studies have demonstrated the superior absorption of these organically bound minerals over inorganic sulfates.

One study compared different copper sources on the amount of copper stored in the liver and eliminated in the feces in pigs. Three groups of fattening pigs (10 animals per group 31.5-100 kg LW) were fed either a diet containing 5 mg Cu in chelated form (B.I.O.Key® Cu), 5mg Cu from CuSO4, or 20 mg Cu from CuSO4. The results show that animals fed 5 mg Cu as B.I.O.Key® Cu had similar levels of Cu in the liver as those animals fed 20 mg Cu from CuSO4. Moreover, Cu excretion in animals fed 5 mg Cu as B.I.O.Key® Cu was half that of animals fed 20 mg Cu as CuSO4 (Figure 3).

Figure 3: A comparison of copper sources in fattening pigs on the levels of copper in the liver and excreted.

This study demonstrates that adequate trace mineral supply can be accomplished at a lower inclusion rate without reduced animal performance when using organically bound trace minerals, like E.C.O.Trace® glycinates and B.I.O.Key® soy amino acid chelates. These data also show that organically bound trace elements have increased availability and less excretion when compared to inorganic sources. This results in less heavy metal accumulation in the soil and groundwater.

Biochem’s many years of experience as an innovative manufacturer of organically bound trace minerals allow us to offer a broad, customized product portfolio. Both B.I.O.Key® soy amino acid chelates and E.C.O.Trace® glycinates have proven themselves successful in precisely supplying trace minerals to animals while protecting the environment.

Would you also like to make a meaningful contribution to sustainability? Please get in touch with us. Together with our environmental concept, trace element excretion can be minimized to suit your needs.

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