There was huge relief among farmers and feed producers last summer when the EU Commission announced that copper limits in feed would be only slightly reduced. But any limit on metal or mineral content in feed requires animal nutritionists to rethink their formulas. So what advice is there on ensuring that animal health is not affected by the new limits?

How can we cope with limited copper in feed?

Originally the EU considered drastic changes to copper limits in feed. As the industry journal FeedNavigator reported back in July 2016, “The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has proposed a significant cut in copper levels for piglets following extensive review.” The suggested level was to be 25 mg/kg down from a previous limit of 170 mg/kg.

Such a low limit caused great concern among the industry, and so the proposals were rejected. Instead, the EU’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food, and Feed (SCoPAFF) announced in May 2018 that maximum limits would be only slightly reduced.

The result was a huge relief to many in the industry, as Arnaud Bouxin, deputy secretary general of FEFAC, made clear at the time, stating, “They [SCoPAFF] have recognized the necessity of these levels to preserve the welfare of pigs at a highly sensitive period of their life.”


The feed industry journal, AllAboutFeed, outlines the latest restrictions for other species as follows;

The inclusion levels are determined based on complete feed with a moisture level of 12%.

  • Cattle (beef and dairy cattle): from 35 mg to 30 mg/kg feed.
  • Cattle (beef and dairy cattle), before the start of rumination: Remains the same at 15 mg/kg feed
  • Other bovines: from 35 mg to 30 mg/kg feed.
  • Goats: from 25 mg to 35 mg/kg feed.
  • Sheep: from 15 mg to 15 mg/kg feed.
  • Crustaceans: Remains the same at 50 mg/kg feed.
  • Other animals: Remains the same at 25 mg/kg feed
  • No modification on the maximum copper contents in feed for poultry (including chickens for fattening) has been decided. The current level of 25 mg/kg feed is currently maintained.

The full legal text was issued by the EU in July 2018.


However, even these small changes have required feed producers to adjust.

As Jan Fledderus, innovation manager at the feed company ForFarmers, made clear in  recent interview with FeedNavigator, “As reported by Wageningen University and several other feed trials, the positive response of high copper growth performance and feed efficiency is not limited to the first four weeks post weaning and from a rational point of view a higher copper content would have been preferred, also for piglets four weeks post weaning. However, we should not be naïve. This is a workable compromise with approval of the feed industry.”


Why does copper matter?

Copper is involved in many vital metabolic processes, including antioxidant activity, aiding iron uptake, and energy transfer. It also prevents many unwanted health conditions, such as impaired growth, poor disease resistance, and bone abnormalities.


But still the changes have created a challenge for many livestock farmers who have been adding copper feed additives to their mixes. As Dr Phil Baynes, lifelong specialist in pig welfare and nutrition and owner of Baynes Nutrition, informed the industry journal PigWorld, “Traditionally, we have been using salts of trace elements, such as copper sulphate, but with the changes in regulations and the subsequent reduction of copper in the final feed, we have to consider other products which have higher digestibility coefficients such as protein-bound trace elements. These will actually feature well in combination with their salts.” Adding that, “This [change] will inevitably increase the cost of our vitamin and mineral packages, but if it improves (or at least maintains) pig performance, then it will be worth it.”

Certainly, reducing the use of copper feed additives will make a difference. As the industry journal Feed Compounder describing two experiments supervised by Dr Paul Bikker from Wageningen University on the positive impact of copper in piglet diets.

“The first experiment tested different copper doses, from 15 to 160 mg/kg supplied as copper sulphate. A dose-response effect was confirmed for growth performance: average daily gain increased as Cu dose increased, while feed conversion ratio decreased. Piglet’s weights were improved by 2.8 kg after 40 days of supplementation.”

Other researchers have already analysed how to replace copper, with swine feed experts, Roger Davin and Francesc Molist (both researchers at Schothorst Feed Research), reporting in the industry journal Pig333, that, “Strategies [for replacing copper additives] include the use of low protein levels combined with the use of highly digestible ingredients and synthetic amino acids, and the use of inert fibre sources. These nutritional strategies are directed towards the promotion of the gastrointestinal tract maturation and the avoidance of an excessive growth of pathogens in piglets in the post-weaning period. Diluting the diets with inert fibre sources until reaching levels below 2,000 kcal have also been related to a greater feed consumption by the piglets.”

Good advice. However, it seems there is no simple replacement for copper in most animal diets. Instead, a close study of alternative supplements, such as monocalcium phosphate or trace minerals, should be considered.


MCP – Animal Feed’s Most Effective Growth Supplement

MCP acts as an inorganic phosphate supplement and plays an important role in the animal feed industry. It provides animals with calcium and phosphorus, which helps to improve an animal's organism, metabolism, and the functioning of nervous, immune and reproductive systems thereby increasing productivity.

Significantly, like copper, it helps prevent disease and aids bone growth.


Furthermore, livestock farmers and feed producers should prepare themselves for further restrictions, as it is expected that the EU Commission will re-examine copper limits in the near future.

As section 8 of the regulation (2018/1039) reads, “With the objective of a further reduction when the maximum contents are next reviewed to meet the maximum of 25 mg/kg for piglets directly after weaning, feed business operators and research institutes should be encouraged … to promptly explore the use and effectiveness of alternatives to supplementation with copper.”


Many animal nutritionists have already begun to examine ways to reduce their use of copper and still maintain sufficient supplementary content. While current law may still permit decent amounts of copper for piglets, that may not last for ever.

So, perhaps now is the time for feed producers to ask themselves: Am I prepared to cope without copper?


AG CHEMI GROUP has been supplying animal feed additives since 1994. It is also a global supplier of industrial quantities of monocalcium phosphate.

If you are interested in buying monocalcium phosphate, or would like to know more about animal feed raw materials, then please contact the friendly, multi-lingual sales team, or take a look at the AG CHEMI GROUP catalogue.


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