Livestock and Feed Producers Need the Innovative FEED Act Now

By Russell Taylor, Vice President, Live Earth Products

In the complex landscape of agricultural advancements and animal health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plays a pivotal role in regulating animal food and drugs.

Product regulation is contingent upon the ingredient characteristics, intended use, and claimed effects, which can classify a product as food or a drug. Unfortunately, this regulatory framework has not kept pace with rapid animal nutrition and health management innovations. New products are emerging with claims highlighting environmental advantages, such as lowering greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing production through improved growth or feed efficiency, and positively impacting the animal microbiome.

The major obstacle prohibiting innovation is that new products don’t neatly align with the definitions of either drugs or nutrients. Recognizing the critical need for reform, the FDA organized a listening session in October 2022 to gather insights from stakeholders across the feed industry. These stakeholder discussions illuminated the constraints imposed by the current regulations and catalyzed the later development of a new legislative effort to modernize the livestock feed additives rules.

A New Pathway

The Innovative Feed Enhancement and Economic Development Act of 2023, also referred to as the Innovative FEED Act, proposes a new pathway at the FDA for novel feed additives by adding a category, Zootechnical Animal Food Substances (ZAFS), which promotes livestock efficiency and production, as well as supports animal health, reduces methane emissions, and empowers U.S. feed manufacturers to compete on a global stage.

Though the bill has been endorsed by farm, livestock, and governmental representatives, it is waiting to be included in a larger piece of legislation. Unfortunately, waiting prolongs the needed change to improve animal, human, and environmental health.

One example of how old regulations impact our entire system is methane emissions. Methane is a byproduct of many industries, including livestock, and is responsible for more than 25% of global warming, per the United Nations. Adding supplementation to livestock feed helps support ruminant gut health, reducing overall methane emissions. Many products like humates have been observed to reduce enteric gasses and odor produced by livestock. Humates are ancient plant deposits commonly used in ruminant diets as a feed supplement with various beneficial effects. Humates can help reduce methane emission, which also relates to improved production performance of ruminants by increasing average daily gain and feed conversion.

Research indicates that humates can also help improve ruminants’ gut health and assist in stress management. More supporting research demonstrates that feed additives like humates increase meat quality through improved nutrient absorption, and these ingredients are already available overseas. Under the current feed additive approval process, many products that are not drugs end up being reviewed as animal drugs, which can take up to 10 years through complicated processes to get approved.

Competing in the Global Market

The Innovative FEED Act is not just about health and environmental benefits; it’s also about maintaining a competitive edge in the global market. Many of the products included in the proposed act have already been approved for use in human food in the United States in addition to animal use in other countries.

The European Food Safety Authority and organizations in Asia, Australia, and South America have already adopted a faster approach to feed additive approvals. This means that manufacturers overseas are ahead of U.S. producers in creating effective livestock feeds that generate better products, an unfortunate symptom of legislative red tape.

Not only do overseas governments believe a quicker path to feed additive approval is better, so do politicians from both sides of the aisle in the United States. The Innovative Feed Act has bipartisan support from representatives like U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Michael Bennett (D-CO).

The Innovative Feed Act has also elicited enthusiastic support from industry professionals across organizations, and the FDA is leading the charge. The FDA has since announced the Animal and Veterinary Innovation Agenda, a comprehensive agenda that indicates support for accelerating approval pathways for additives that support animal health and resilience and increase the efficiency of our food supply.

In February 2024, the FDA announced it is moving to withdraw a rule that prevents feed additives with production claims from fast approval.

The Innovative Feed Act is supported by organizations such as The American Feed Industry Association, spearheaded by Leah Wilkinson, the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Grain and Feed Association, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, to name a few.

The near-unanimous support from government and industry organizations fuels optimism that this bill will pass soon and, in doing so, impart meaningful change for livestock and feed producers.