Reducing exposure to antibiotics and synthetic hormones in the food supply by use of Traditional Chinese Medicines in animal husbandry

Goals: The goal of this research is to identify botanicals used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that can replace or reduce the overuse of antibiotics and synthetic hormones as feed supplements in animal husbandry.  The results of this research are intended to address growing concerns about antibiotic resistance in livestock, and to benefit human health by reducing the presence of antibiotics and hormones in the global food supply and replacing them with potentially more beneficial botanical products.  This research also seeks to demonstrate the economic viability of protecting small farms from development and to promote the protection of bio-diverse environments.  Another research objective is to advance the science of standardization of TCM preparations through the use of powdering technologies.  The research is being conducted in collaboration with Tsinghua University in Beijing and Shandong Agricultural University in Tai’an, China.
The four objectives of the research are:

  1. To examine the effects of different powdering technologies in processing TCM botanicals, in order to optimize the balance between increasing bio-availability (absorption) and concentration, while minimizing potential damage to the active ingredients, and achieve greater standardization of final products;
  2. To assay four select botanicals (see below) to determine their phytochemical profiles (e.g., antimicrobial, antioxidant properties);
  3. To conduct in vitro studies designed to identify functional pathways and mechanisms of action, focusing, in particular, on phenolic ingredients to control food-borne pathogens; and,
  4. To conduct in vivo studies to examine the effects of select TCM nutrients on preventing disease and promoting growth in chickens.

Based on preliminary studies by our colleagues in China, we have identified 4 relatively small rural mountainous farming cooperatives in China that grow 4 promising TCM botanicals:

  • Astragalus membranaceus Fiach. [Huang-Qi; root], Shanxi Province
  • Codonopsis pilosula (Franch.) Nannf. [Dang Shen; root], Shanxi Province
  • Epimedium brevicornum Maxim [Yin Yang Huo; herb], Guizhou Province, and
  • Lonicera japonica Thunb. [Jin Yin Hua; flower buds] in Shandong Province.

Methods: The research involves a complex series of linked steps, including securing consistent and reliable supplies of the identified botanicals from community-based farming groups; entering into production partnerships with university researchers to develop TCM products as animal food supplements; assessing whether the commercial value of local plant diversity is sufficient to protect these farms from pressures for non-agricultural development; determining the extent to which different farming methods (e.g., cultivation vs. collection) can used to preserve and promote sustainable biodiversity; evaluating different powdering technologies for their potential in enhancing the availability of active ingredients found in whole plant products (roots, flowers, leaves) without damaging their biological activity; the effects of micro-ecological factors (climate, light, environmental stress, soil conditions, etc.) on the amount and ratio of distinct bioactive ingredients in these botanicals; identifying plausible mechanisms of action for hypothesized therapeutic benefits; and rigorously demonstrating whether the hypothesized benefits of using TCM in animal husbandry – in reducing or eliminating the need for antibiotics for disease protection and synthetic hormones for growth promotion — can be shown.

Principals: This research is being conducted by Dr. Kalidas Shetty, Professor of Food Science, Dr. Lyle Craker, Professor of Plant Science, Dr. David Buchanan, Professor of Public Health, Dr. Guo-sheng Gai, Professor of Engineering at Tshinghua University, and Dr. Zhi-zhing Cui at Shandong Agriculture College.