Fertco launched a new MineralBoost supplement in August last year, seven months after the company withdrew its original product amid speculation it was the cause of salmonella outbreaks.
Although more than 20 million doses of MineralBoost were administered in animal’s feed ratios over two seasons, the small number of salmonella cases, particularly in the Taranaki region, during Spring 2011 resulted in the finger being pointed at Fertco’s MineralBoost G1 product said Fertco chief executive Warwick Voyce.
Voyce said when people were looking for answers to the salmonella outbreaks, the easy answer was the new kid on the block.
It was only the second year Fertco had the product on the market and because it was fed in a unique physical form it made it easy for it to be singled out as the cause. The difference to other products was the Fertco supplement came in an integrated granule.
“The theory was that the granule was altering the rumen or gut pH and that allowed salmonella to proliferate.” said Voyce.
“We decided to by hyper cautious and remove our product from the market until we could be certain there was no correlation between minerals and salmonella.”
The decision to take it off the market has cost the company millions of dollars and set it back years said Voyce. “It’s certainly been a fairly tough time for Fertco in that we withdrew our product which was a very rapidly growing part of our business. “We’d invested a lot of money into supporting the infrastructure around manufacturing it and had employed people specifically. Not long after we withdrew the product from the market we had to make people redundant, and lost five staff as a direct result. It was unhappy times and caused a lot of stress for people.
“I guess at the end of the day, what’s allowed us to sleep at night is the fact that we were doing the right thing by our customers. We certainly don’t want in any shape or form for our customers to be in the way of any potential harm.”
Lincoln University ruminant nutrition scientist and veterinarian Jim Gibbs was shocked when he heard that low dose magnesium oxide was being blamed for raising the rumen pH to a point that it was causing salmonellosis.
“I briefly thought it was candid camera. From a rumen function, rumen physiology point of view, the hypothesis that magnesium oxide at industry doses could change the rumen or gut environment enough to grow salmonella, was plainly wrong. It flew in the face of the large amount of established literature in the field. The people who were saying this did not understand rumen function,” said Gibbs.
“In normal, healthy fully fed cows, even if you were to use enormous doses of magnesium oxide, and you were to artificially raise the rumen pH, it’s not the pH alone that grows the salmonella.”
Fertco formed an R&D committee which contacted Gibbs to undertake research on the potential correlation between the MineralBoost product and rumen conditions.
Gibbs took the work on immediately because he was concerned with the associations being drawn and the risks to the industry if farmers withdrew magnesium oxide.
Gibbs undertook a study which involved feeding cows at 30% above the recommended dose of the 30g of Magnesium Oxide in the MineralBoost product for milking cow rations.
“In short, it was very clear that there was no functional significant change in the cow in terms of the rumen environment – and certainly no change in pH.
“Magnesium oxide is an alkaliser, so in certain situations you can raise the pH. However, overseas work has shown that even if you use it at 90g (three times the dose of the Fertco product recommended per cow per day) in the rumen environment, for that amount of magnesium oxide against the acid load of a normal 100 litre rumen, it is a minimal and temporary impact.
“You have a very small amount of alkaliser in with literally kilos of rumen acid. The idea that 30g Magnesium Oxide fed a day will dramatically change the rumen or abomasal environment is just plainly wrong.”
Fertco’s new MineralBoost G2 products have been specifically designed as rumen dispersible granules and the quality assurance process is very stringent said Voyce. The new products include MineralBoost Classic, MineralBoost+Rumensin and MineralBoost Max.
“We’ve taken the time to asses our product and make some improvements to it, but primarily the science that Dr Gibbs undertook and the other bodies of work Fertco undertook dispelled all of the theory and allowed us to have confidence to return to the market with the new product. And that’s what we’ve gone ahead and done. But we did so only with the blessing from the likes of Fonterra, Ministry of Primary Industries, our insurance company – we had to tick a lot of boxes before we got there.”