Changing the diet of animals to produce healthier meat and milk as well as meat and milk derivatives

22 November 2021

Changing the diet of animals to produce healthier meat and milk as well as meat and milk derivatives

  • We are working on new formulas to develop pig and sheep feed that will improve the nutritional properties of animal based food
  • The trials, part of the NUTFOOD project, are noteworthy for the use of linseed as a raw material that is optimum for obtaining products with a fat profile that is more beneficial to human health.
  • The initiative, financed by the Elkartek programme, is lead by Leartiker, with the participation of NEIKER, Tecnalia, Universidad del País Vasco (UPV/EHU) and ISS Bioaraba

Currently it is estimated that about 95% of chronic diseases in Basque Country are related with dietary habits or lack of exercise. In terms of dietary habits, nutritional imbalance in the diet is prominent, resulting in an excess consumption of certain nutrients while other healthier nutrients are not consumed as much. However, a growing number of consumers are becoming more aware of the relationship between diet and health and because of this, nutritional aspects are increasingly influencing the decision to purchase certain products, especially food of animal origin.

The controversy that exists regarding consuming these types of products equally affects the sustainability of many farming as well as livestock operations. This is a context that has motivated promoting the collaborative research project NUTFOOD, with the participation of the NEIKER. This is an initiative, which main objective is to design new animal diet formulas that result in healthier food products of animal origin for human consumption.

Healthier feed for pigs and sheep

Within the framework of this initiative, we have validated the use of oils and cakes made with locally purchased oil seeds such as linseed, rapeseed or sunflower. These seeds undergo a mechanical cold press process to extract the oil and cake, which in this occasion have been used to formulate feed for pork and ovine livestock to improve the nutritional profile of the meat and milk produced from these animals.

“We have concluded that linseed is an interesting and optimum prime material for feeding animals and producing food of animal origin (meat as well as milk) with healthier nutritional characteristics”, explains Roberto Ruiz, head of NEIKER’s Animal Production Department.

To reach this conclusion, we have conducted two trials; one with sheep and another one with pigs, for which we designed three different feed formulas for each livestock specie, which were then compared to a conventional feed.

In the case of the pigs, the technological centre conducted trials on 24 animals supplied by the Basatxerri association. These pigs were divided into 4 groups with 6 animals each, and each group was fed a different feed: regular feed with no fatty additive was used for the control group while other feeds included sunflower, linseed or rapeseed oil in their formulation. “According on the results, the composition of the fat in animals fed using oil seeds were, in general, comprised of healthier fatty acids than that of the group fed the regular feed. However, the meat of pigs fed with feed formulated using linseed oil had significantly higher amounts of these healthier components“, says the expert from NEIKER.

Also, the growth and weight recorded for animals that were fed feed formulated with linseed oil was similar to those of the control group and greater than those fed feed formulated with rapeseed and sunflower oil.

On the other hand, in the case of sheep, we conducted a similar trial using feed formulated with oil cakes (linseed, sunflower and rapeseed) and compared to a group that was fed commercial-control feed. “Milk obtained from the group that was fed feed formulated with oil cakes was comprised of healthier fatty acids. Also in this case, milk obtained from sheep fed with feed formulated with linseed cakes was comprised of fatty acids with properties that were more beneficial to health”, specifies Ruiz.

Once the use on linseed is validated as a source with a high nutritional value in animal feed, the next step of the NUTFOOD project will be to formulate and analyse meat derivatives (hamburgers and cured blood sausages) and dairy products (yoghurt and cured cheese) as well as conduct nutritional clinical trials with healthy consumers to determine if there are any beneficial effects on human health as part of a healthy diet.

Financed by the Elkartek programme of the Basque Government, the NUTFOOD initiative also includes the participation of the Leartiker technological centre as project lead, the Metabolomips research group of Universidad del País Vasco (UPV/EHU), the Health research Institute ISS Bioaraba and the Tecnalia technological centre.