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Date Pits Tested as Antibiotic Replacement

by 5m Editor
7 April 2011, at 8:35am

DUBAI - Researchers at UAE University in Al Ain are testing the use of date pits to replace the antibiotics administered to chickens. The idea is so promising that the university is patenting the concept.

Date pits, it turns out, have significant ability to protect poultry against common ailments, said Ahmed Soliman Hussein, a professor of poultry nutrition at the department of arid-land agriculture at UAE University, reports The National of the United Arab Emirates.

Pits are inexpensive, since the UAE's date industry generates 50,000 tonnes of pits annually as by-products of processing.

And public health officials would welcome anything that can get the antibiotics out of food animals. The use of antibiotics in animal feed can encourage the growth of resistant strains of bacteria. And as dosage increases, so does the risk of the medicine remaining in the meat after slaughter.

Europe has banned the use of animal antibiotics as a preventive measure, allowing the drugs to be used only when animals are ill. The Centres for Disease Control in the US has urged the government there to do the same.

But the global poultry industry still uses an estimated 11,000 tonnes of antibiotics a year, according to Professor Hussein. "People are very worried about how many antibiotics we get from consuming animal feeds," he said.

He said early results from the date pit feed tests had been very promising. "When we compared the microbiology that protects the chickens against E. coli, Campylobacter, Shigella and Salmonella, we found a significant improvement," he said.

The UAE is one of the top five date-producing countries in the world, and pits that are not discarded are often sold by processing factories to farmers at "almost no cost", said Professor Hussein. They are fed to camels and cows, according to The National.

For chicken producers, date pits make an attractive alternative to yellow corn, a main ingredient in animal feed. The UAE University researchers calculate that pits could be used to replace up to a fifth of the corn in chicken feed.

That would cut both costs and the use of growth-enhancing drugs.

The university is in the process of patenting its findings in the Emirates and in the US. Once that has been done, Professor Hussein says he will publish his study in academic journals. "First we'll patent it in the UAE, then begin looking to the GCC as a market," he said.

Because most animal feed is imported, replacing corn with date pits could save the poultry industry thousands of dirhams, Professor Hussein said during last week's Agribusiness Outlook Forum.

Feed constitutes 70 to 80 per cent of the cost of raising poultry, according to a poultry expert who manages a farm in Liwa.

Currently probiotics, antioxidants, vitamins and trace minerals are all added to chicken feed, along with antibiotics, to boost the birds' immunity and help them absorb more nutrients from their feed.

Still, it may be hard work to convince farms to swap their feed. Aref Mohamed Azazy, who manages a poultry farm in Sweihan, remains sceptical. "It might work in the labs, but putting findings to use in the field is something different" he said, adding that even antibiotics worked differently on the farm than in the lab.

His farms already limit antibiotic use to treatment rather than prevention of disease, he said, and stop even that at least three days before slaughter. "That way it clears the meat before it reaches the consumer."

The National's report concludes that in the UAE, managing poultry health can be tricky. Only a handful of farms breed their own animals; most import fertilised eggs from elsewhere. On Tuesday (5 April), the country's biggest poultry provider, Al Rawdha Poultry, said that part of the reason it had recently struggled to maintain egg and chicken meat supplies was a single unhealthy batch of breeding stock. The result has been 30,000 fewer fresh birds a day on supermarket shelves.