More about the work of ACAF

Dr Ian Brown, previously acting Chair of the Advisory Committee on Animal Feedingstuffs (ACAF), is interviewed about the Committee's work.

Established in 1999, ACAF advises on the safety and use of animal feeds and feeding practices, with particular emphasis on protecting human health and with reference to new technical developments.

When discussing the concerns of ACAF, Dr Brown is quick to note that the content of animal feedingstuffs has implications for both human and animal health.

'Our prime concern is the end consumer and public health. Closely linked with this concern is the issue of animal health,' he says. 'We must have appropriate respect for animal welfare and how animals are treated before they enter the food chain. After all, we're all inter-dependent on other species. We cannot forget that.'

Dr Brown, a medically qualified registered specialist in occupational medicine and toxicology, was acting Chair from when his predecessor, Professor Phillip Thomas, stepped down in May 2001 until a new Chair was appointed in May 2002. Dr Brown is a consultant physician and Director of Occupational Health and Safety at Southampton University Hospital NHS Trust.

Eleven other members comprise ACAF with diverse backgrounds in the feed industry, farming, veterinary medicine, toxicology, microbiology and novel technology. There are also two consumer and lay members on the Committee.

Animal feedingstuffs and food safety concerns

'Genetically modified (GM) animal feed and the use of fishmeal are two important issues ACAF has examined since its establishment,' says Dr Brown.

'Substantial equivalence is one tool we use in assessing the safety of GM animal feed or feed ingredients,' says Dr Brown. Substantial equivalence is a process whereby GM food, for example, is compared to non-GM food. In comparing the two, the Committee looks at the intentional effects of the genetic modification and at any possible unintended side effects. ACAF also uses the data from animal feeding studies where this is appropriate. These generally concentrate on nutritional aspects but can also be used to identify animal health problems.

In May 2001, ACAF concluded that fishmeal and fish oil in animal feed did not in itself represent a threat to human or animal health and that it was safe to feed to livestock. However, because of the potential risk of meat and bonemeal (MBM) contaminating fishmeal and fish oil (a feed manufacturer may legally produce both types of feed), feeding these products to ruminants has been banned in the EU. The Committee believed that contamination was unlikely in the UK as MBM has been banned since 1996 for all animal feeding purposes.

'Fishmeal was an important part of the diet of certain animals such as pregnant and lactating hill ewes,' says Dr Brown. 'It provides important nutrients to the animal and this has a knock-on effect for human health, because the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fishmeal are beneficial to humans.'

ACAF is urging more research into methods for detecting MBM in fishmeal in order to relax the ban in the future for the UK. 'In the UK, there is little risk of contaminating fishmeal with MBM but we can't be so confident that European fishmeal is not contaminated.' As the UK does not allow the feeding of MBM to any livestock, ACAF felt the ban on fishmeal was unnecessary here.

Future plans

ACAF's future plans include the consideration of topics suggested by stakeholders who attended the Committee's first open forum last summer. On-farm good practice, GM issues, EC developments and traceability are just a few of the issues ACAF will address.