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Specialty feed ingredients

A user-friendly guide to specialty feed ingredients

The key role of nutrition in the well-being and health of animals

balanced nutrition has an essential role to play in the well-being and health of both humans and animals.


Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states that all animals, regardless of their role – pets, sport animals, farm animals, to name a few – deserve their welfare requirements to be taken into full regard. Animal well-being is based on the pursuit of the so-called “Five Freedoms”, first among these, freedom from hunger and thirst, including an appropriate diet to maintain full health and vitality.

When it comes to farm animals, a great part of their diet usually consists of maize, wheat and soybean meal. In order to avoid possible deficiencies and to ensure the assimilation of all the essential nutrients, specialty feed ingredients are typically needed. These ingredients play a key role in guaranteeing appropriate animal nutrition and, therefore, the animals’ health and well-being. The ingredients provide other numerous benefits; in fact, among other things, they improve the quality of the final animal products and can reduce the environmental footprint of animal production itself.

What is a specialty feed ingredient?

It is an ingredient added in small quantities to feed with the aim of improving its properties or to preserve it. Examples that most would recognise are vitamins, amino acids (constituents of proteins), preservatives and antioxidants, among others.


Many of these components (e.g. flavours, enzymes) can be found in nature or they can be reproduced. When intentionally added to feed or water they must perform one or more specific functions indicated in the corresponding European legislation in order to qualify for specialty feed ingredient status.

In fact, the use of feed additives in animal nutrition in the European Union is subject to a stringent regulatory framework provided by Regulation (EC) No 1831/2003. To be placed on the market, these ingredients must undergo a thorough and rigorous scientific assessment to obtain an authorisation. The applicant must demonstrate the safety of the product for the animal, for the consumer, for the user and for the environment, as well as its efficacy. These requirements are evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It is only after a positive review by EFSA that the European Commission will authorise the product.

Therefore, all EU-authorised feed additives are safe and this is a precondition for their use.


A great number of feed additives are also authorised and needed for feeding animals in organic farming. For instance plant extracts, vitamins, trace elements, clays, micro-organisms, organic acids and some enzymes.

What are their functions?

Today’s European farmers expect feed they buy to be safe as well as healthy and sustainable. This requires specialty ingredients that can provide a nutritional value, texturise, flavour, emulsify and preserve feed. Example are preservatives, which prevent feed from deteriorating too rapidly whilst adding a healthy and nutritious dimension for poultry, pigs, cattle, calves, fish and rabbits.


In general, a specialty feed ingredient is a product which provides a particular effect/function in the appropriate concentrated form. The Feed Additives Regulation currently recognises the following four functions: technologicalnutritionalsensory and zootechnical.

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What are the benefits ?

Animal health and welfare

Raw materials (e.g. wheat, corn) alone are often not able to satisfy pets’ and farm animals’ needs in terms of dietary intake of essential nutrients, necessary to guarantee their good health and, consequently, their welfare. To avoid deficiencies and possible serious shortcomings, specialty feed ingredients such as amino acids, vitamins and trace elements are fundamental in an animal’s diet, taking into consideration their requirements during the different stages of life.


Nourishment, however, is not the only function these ingredients carry out to preserve and improve animals’ health and well-being. Sensory additives, such as flavourings and colourants, improve the feed’s presentation, palatability and stimulate the animal’s appetite.

For instance, a vanilla extract can increase the appetite of piglets during the period of weaning, or when fed to cows, can ensure optimal animal feeding for the production of milk. Zootechnical additives enable a more efficient use of the nutrients present in the diet. Well known examples are probiotics which preserve the balance of the intestinal microflora; or active yeasts which improve the functioning of the digestive system by preventing the spread of harmful micro-organisms.


Specialty feed ingredients serve to strengthen animal health and therefore increase resistance to harmful micro-organisms. As such, they contribute to reducing the need of antibiotics in animals.

Quality of feed and of animal products

In order to produce healthy food for humans, farm animals need safe and nutritious feed. Specialty feed ingredients can improve handling, hygiene characteristics and the preservation of feed and its nutritive contents.


Organic acids are used to preserve and protect the product against deterioration caused by micro-organisms, such as fungi and bacteria. Antioxidants prolong the shelf life of feedingstuffs and avoid the oxidation of nutrients. Thanks to them, important food components like omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in meat and fish are preserved.


Specialty feed ingredients can play an important role for the reduction of the environmental footprint of animal production.


The use of specialty ingredients in feeding stuff reduces the total amount of feed that farm animals need to consume to meet their dietary requirements and, therefore, it can limit the land needed to grow feed. Moreover, the feed industry also actively contributes to a circular economy: former foodstuffs, by-products from the food industry, are processed into high quality animal feed with the addition of specialty feed ingredients, therefore reducing waste, energy and land use as well.

Methanenitrogen and phosphorus are important emissions deriving from livestock production. They contribute to global warming, as well as to the pollution of water, air and soil via manure.


Certain specialty feed ingredients, such as enzymes, are able to reduce the overall quantity of phosphorus released into the environment through the animals’ faeces. Amino acids are capable of reducing the amount of nitrogen excreted.

The specialty feed ingredients and feed industry overall contribute to a more efficient feed and food chain and hence the sustainability of animal production.



Can we do without specialty feed ingredients?

Abandoning the use of specialty feed ingredients would have severe negative consequences for the animals, the environment and, last but not least, for consumers.

Raising farm animals to feed a world population requires specialty animal feed. The amount of raw materials needed to cover the animals’ dietary requirements would otherwise increase exponentially, alongside the use of land, water and energy needed to produce them. This would further enlarge livestock production’s environmental footprint. Specialty feed ingredients contribute to the efficient use of raw materials needed to cover animals’ dietary requirements. Sustainable farmers require specialty feed ingredients that contribute to an improved feed conversion ratio for a more efficient use of land, water and energy.

Are specialty feed ingredients safe?

Yes, authorised feed additives have to undergo a rigorous scientific assessment in order to be authorised.

This includes evaluation of their safety for the animal, the consumer, the user and the environment.

Are antibiotic growth promoters used in animal feed?

No, using antibiotics for growth promotion purposes was banned in 2006 under the EU Feed Additives Regulation – Regulation (EC) No 1831/2003 on additives for use in animal nutrition as a measure to tackle antibiotic resistance.

The fact that the use of antibiotics as growth promoters has been banned in Europe remains widely unknown amongst the general public. This was recently demonstrated in the latest European barometer, which showed that only 38% of EU citizens know that using antibiotics to stimulate growth in farm animals is banned within the EU. Since the 2006 EU ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promotors, other continents have decided to follow this example underpinning the position of the EU as a best practice region as outlined in the EU One Health Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance.

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