As the questioning consumer continues to show concern over the safety of food products and notably the use of antibiotics in farm animals, new research could offer a healthy alternative to boost the immunity system of pigs - fish oils.
Scientists the world over are currently investigating the role that omega-3 fatty acids could play in improving our health, but a new study by researchers from the US Agricultural Research Service evaluated the use of omega-3 fatty acids in young, weaned pigs as a means of developing their immune systems and helping the animals to fight deadly diseases.
ARS animal physiologist Jeff Carroll at the ARS Animal Physiology Research Unit in Minnesota fed one group of 18-day-old pigs a traditional diet that included 7 per cent corn oil. The other group received 7 per cent menhaden fish oil, which - like tuna and salmon - contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
After 14 days of feeding, the pigs were immunologically challenged with an endotoxin. Tests showed that the pigs given the fish oil were eating more feed after the challenge and that the fish oil helped them better prepare to fight the toxin.
Carroll has performed other research using different concentrations of fish oil. Each study showed that the fish oil diet was better than the control diet at helping build up the pigs' immune systems. The scientists report that the omega-3 fatty acids are absorbed through the intestine and help the immune cells cope with disease.
As Europe steps up antibiotic control in animal feed, and US producers fall vulnerable to this move, Carroll's research could offer a healthy, natural alternative. But the benefit doesn't just stop there. ARS reports that, likely to be less expensive than antibiotics, fish could bring real savings.