Interview: Micronutrients Bringing New Solutions to Trace Mineral Market

Aug 20, 2014 | Interviews

In North America and all around the world, nutritionists, veterinarians and live production managers are paying increased attention to trace mineral forms and levels. There is a growing awareness of differences in the chemistry that results in mineral forms performing differently in terms of absorbance, interactions with gut micro flora and negative impacts on other feed ingredients through oxidation or binding.

Established more than 20 years ago, Micronutrients, a company which has recently completed a significant expansion program, offers a wide range of trace minerals, including copper, zinc and manganese-based products. Feedinfo News Service spoke to Micronutrients Vice-President Jeff Cohen about his company’s efforts in elucidating the mode of action of minerals, and the way minerals can contribute to optimal nutrition for animals.

[Feedinfo News Service] Micronutrients started as a research project whose aim was to make trace minerals more effective and economical for animals. How important is that scientific background to your company’s commercial activities?

[Jeff Cohen] In the 1990s we were introducing a totally novel trace mineral form to the animal feed industry. Our experience and expertise in metal chemistry, combined with well-designed and executed animal research trials, were absolutely essential for us to begin to gain the trust of nutritionists. Initial test results indicated that our hydroxy minerals could provide improved bioavailability while reducing the oxidation in feed often facilitated by water-soluble metal compounds. These benefits encouraged some companies to test our products for themselves, leading to the start of our success.

[Feedinfo News Service] Micronutrients claims “IntelliBond minerals significantly improve nutrient stability in premixes and feeds and increase bioavailability and efficacy in the animal while reducing environmental impact.” Can you expand on this statement?

[Jeff Cohen] One negative aspect of many mineral compounds, sulfates in particular, is their promotion of oxidation and the resulting destruction of critical components in animal feed. Oxidative destruction of lipids, fatty acids, enzymes and fat-soluble vitamins can have a strong impact on feed quality and palatability, ultimately reducing an animal’s feed intake, performance and overall health status. Metal sulfates very easily dissociate, with the sulfate anion pulling electrons away from the metal, leaving it depleted and able to continuously shuttle elections, causing the chain reaction that facilitates oxidation.

In contrast, hydroxy minerals are neutral salts and insoluble in water, often acting as electron donors and therefore not promoting oxidation in premixes or complete feeds. In addition to reducing oxidation, the lower reactivity of hydroxy trace minerals results in less binding with other substances in the feed as well as in the digestive tract of animals. The outcome is more mineral availability to the animal.

Some very creative and elegant work designed by Dr. Kirk Klasing helped to demonstrate the fact that formulating less reactive minerals in the feed of chickens resulted in less bound and unavailable minerals throughout the digestive tract.

When evaluating environmental impact we need to take into account all apects of animal production, including energy, resources, labor and all other costs of producing feed for protein production. I feel it is shortsighted to focus solely on reducing mineral nutrient levels. The environment is truly impacted the least when animal growth and health is optimized. This involves determining the levels at which animals grow most efficiently. Our animal research is focused on determining those levels and much of our success is a result of our minerals improving production efficiency.

[Feedinfo News Service] Last May, Micronutrients announced the completion of a project to triple the capacity of its manufacturing plant in Indianapolis in a bid to cater to “growing global demands”. The project allows the company to increase production of its Large Particle Technology(TM) product forms (Zn, Mn and Cu). What are according to you the main factors driving this demand? What can you tell us about your company’s strategic growth areas? 

[Jeff Cohen] The factors driving demand for our products are their quality, efficacy, potency and economics. One of the most influential market factors has been, and will continue to be, the elimination of growth promoting antibiotics and the subsequent emphasis on gut health. Copper and zinc in particular have long been known to positively influence gut health and nutrient absorption and recent research has shown IntelliBond minerals to be among the most effective minerals in this arena.

Our plans for growth include continued expansion around the world.We have products approved in many countries in the European Union, North America, South America, Asia and Africa and plan to expand into as many countries as possible. We are also constantly focused on research and development to determine the advantages of our minerals in more species, other market niches and even human nutrition.

[Feedinfo News Service] IntelliBond C, Micronutrients’ initial product, has been available in Europe since 2012 (it is distributed by Orffa International). How important is Europe (seen as a more mature market) to Micronutrients’ overall strategy? 

[Jeff Cohen] Europe is certainly central to our strategy for several reasons. First and foremost is the market’s size. The 28 countries that make up the EU produce approximately 20% of the animal feed manufactured in the world.

The second reason is that due to the extremely rigorous and demanding quality standards and ingredient approval process, not every producer of trace minerals can qualify their products for sale in the EU. Our business has been managed from its inception almost 20 years ago based on ISO quality standards, enabling us to gain approvals through the American Feed Industry Association’s Safe Feed/Safe Food program, HACCP, FAMI-Qs and OMRI organic certification. IntelliBond minerals have been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is important to us in that it signifies to other countries around the world that they are of the highest quality.

Our success so far in Europe has been very encouraging in that interest is high, many companies are evaluating our products and sales are growing every quarter. This growth is helping stir interest in other parts of the globe. We have been active in many countries in Asia for about 10 years and are selling our products in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. We are making an effort to expand elsewhere in Asia, as well as in Africa, the Middle East and South America.

[Feedinfo News Service] Upon the introduction of IntelliBond C in Europe, Orffa International CEO Eddy Ketels said that Micronutrients’ hydroxy trace minerals are a “totally new way of looking at trace element nutrition.” Can you expand on this?

[Jeff Cohen] Traditionally, trace minerals used in animal feed have been categorized as either inorganic or organic. Typical inorganics are the sulfates and oxides, which make up the large majority of copper, zinc and manganese used in feed. Organics are mineral salts whose ligands contain carbon and include proteinates, specific amino acids, glycinates and polysaccharides. The widely used sulfates are very soluble and reactive due to having weak, ionic bonds, making them available early in the digestive tract while also promoting oxidative destruction of other ingredients present and being very susceptible to becoming bound and unavailable further along in the GI tract.

Organic minerals have sometimes exhibited higher relative bioavailability due to having covalent bonds making them less soluble and/or reactive. IntelliBond minerals are unique in that their slow reactivity, higher bioavailability and improved bio-efficacy are a result of a combination of covalent bonds and a crystal matrix structure. Since trace minerals are absorbed for basic nutritional functions and are present in the gut to improve digestion and growth, IntelliBond’s stability and slow release make them the newest and most technologically advanced mineral additives on the market.

[Feedinfo News Service] Micronutrients’ product portfolio also includes IntelliBond Z (zinc), IntelliBond M (manganese) and IntelliBond Vital 4, a blend for dairy cattle of copper, zinc, manganese and cobalt. In what markets are these products available today? How have these products performed over the past few years?

[Jeff Cohen] Our Zinc and Manganese were introduced in early 2012 while the Vital 4 blend was introduced in 2013 in the United States. All are currently registered in various other countries as well. Approvals for some or all of these products have been obtained in the EU, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and registration submissions in many other countries are in various stages of progress. Adoption of all products is steady and growing as we are able to share our research data and word of mouth between nutritionists and growers helps to spread the story of IntelliBond’s efficacy.

[Feedinfo News Service] How do European trace mineral requirements differ from the U.S. market? Is there any major difference in formulation of European and U.S. products? How is Micronutrients adapting to market variations?

[Jeff Cohen] European Union regulations are among the most stringent in the world, especially those related to particle size, heavy metal contamination and dioxins. Micronutrients decided early on to set the bar very high in terms of being able to meet all requirements in any jurisdictions around the world.

Regarding feed formulations, the EU is pushing very hard to limit the levels of metals used in animal diets. Given this move towards using less, the improved efficacy and availability of IntelliBond minerals make them ideal for use. It is my opinion that the most important emphasis for nutrition should be to feed optimal levels of minerals to promote the most efficient and economic growth possible, which IntelliBond minerals facilitate at lower levels than other mineral sources.

[Feedinfo News Service] What can you tell us about your innovation efforts? Are there any future product launches you would like to talk about? Are you seeking to extend the range of minerals you offer?

[Jeff Cohen] Seeking ways to innovate is an integral part of our company culture.Micronutrients itself started as a research project that turned into a business. The advances in trace mineral delivery and performance we have brought to animal feed markets are made possible by the broad and deep scientific resources of our parent organization, The Heritage Group. The group is an 80+ year old, privately held group of businesses that have grown to include 75 companies with a worldwide footprint. Evidence that our roots are indeed firmly in innovation, The Heritage Group’s focus is on developing sustainable solutions to complex scientific problems. Within the Group currently are 6,000+ employees, 30+ PhD scientists and 90+ chemists, resulting so far in more than 50 patents. Regarding new products being developed, lots of work is underway but none are ready for market quite yet.

[Feedinfo News Service] The past 20 years have seen major transformations in the way trace minerals are used, and in the scientific standards concerning the levels of trace minerals incorporated in feed. How does Micronutrients ensure optimal dosing for its products? What are your predictions concerning the evolution of mineral nutrition?

[Jeff Cohen] We ensure optimal dosing by performing a very large number of animal trials at both universities and private research facilities. We adhere to the strictest scientific principles in an earnest attempt to learn all we can about our minerals specifically and mineral nutrition and absorption in general. In the past 4 years alone we have spent more than USD 3 million on a combination of animal research and quality assurance. My prediction concerning the evolution of mineral nutrition – as stated earlier – is that pressure to lower levels fed to animals will continue to increase. My hope is that we don’t sacrifice animal health, efficiency and reproduction by lowering levels below those that are best. We need to strive for the most efficient and sustainable protein production possible.

Source: Feedinfo News Service (dated 20/08/2014)