Achieving increased efficiency of feed conversion into edible human food products of high quality, without posing any significant risk to the consumer, is an important goal of livestock producers worldwide. The physiologic mechanisms involved in converting feed into muscle, fat, and bone by animals are increasingly being elucidated. Recently, consumer concerns about additives for food production have focused on animal safety, organoleptic quality, and the potential human health hazards of the food we eat.
A number of approaches may be taken to improve conversion of animal feed into meat; two of the more practical approaches are hormonal treatments and antimicrobial feed additives. The hormonal approach includes administration of anabolic steroid hormones, use of growth hormone (GH) or insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) to augment endogenous GH levels, and use of β-adrenergic agonists (βAA) to preferentially increase nutrient partitioning to muscle (see Growth Promotants and Production Enhancers: Natural Steroid Hormones for Consideration as Growth Promoters). The antimicrobial feed additives approach includes feeding of antibiotics to decrease populations of pathologic bacteria in host GI tracts, use of compounds to manipulate ruminal fermentation by changing the ruminal microflora population in healthy animals, and use of probiotics to promote beneficial microflora in the GI tract.
The use of hormonal treatments and antimicrobial feed additives in production animals is currently under debate in many areas and is banned in some (eg, the EU) due to concerns surrounding their possible effects on people.
Last full review/revision March 2012 by Christopher D. Reinhardt, MS, PhD