Report Synopsis

Alternative Uses for Ionophores in the Feedlot Industry. Antibiotic-Free Feedlot Production

Elizabeth Manchee

The Australian feedlot sector is an important component of the beef industry, mitigating environmental factors that adversely affect the industry and adding market share, both domestically and internationally. The feedlot production system relies on ionophore use. These are an in-feed antibiotic, antimicrobial and anticoccidial agent that is fed prophylactically to prevent infection, increase animal welfare, assist in growth promotion to improve feed efficiency and to increase meat yield.

Ionophores are technically classed as an antibiotic that increases cell membrane permeability, resulting in the change of rumen microbiota. Ionophores are not considered to be critically important in human medicine by the World Health Organisation (WHO) because they are not used in human medicine, although antibiotic resistance has been identified as a critical global health issue.

Since ionophores are antibiotics, concerns are raised about their continued use and some supply chains include ionophores in their claim of using ‘no antibiotics’ in the raising of animals. Hence it is possible to conclude that the use of ionophores cannot be continued indefinitely. The author believes that an alternative is required, not only for the continuation of the feedlot industry but for insurance should the constant use of ionophores in food producing animals give rise to unwanted or unknown side-effects. The authors intention is not to bring undue scrutiny to the industry but rather to encourage the development of alternative, effective production systems.

There are a number of reasons for seeking an alternative to the continued ionophore use, including mitigating the potential future negative effects, consumer concern about current food production systems, food labelling system requirements, potential future governmental legislation on chemical and antibiotic use and potential future changes to importing country requirements.

Alternatives to ionophore use are available and are effectively used in intensive feedlot situations. This paper looks at the evidence for and against the continuation of ionophore use and the driving forces behind the possibility of change.