Weekly Overview: Towards a More Sustainable Poultry Sector

ANALYSIS - The agri-food industry generally and poultry sector in particular are taking steps to become more sustainable in economic, environmental and ethical terms. In the last week, there has been news in all these areas and from around the world, while a new US study shows the progress made by the egg industry over the last 50 years.
calendar icon 7 November 2013
clock icon 4 minute read

For the poultry industry in Mexico to achieve greater economic sustainability, it will invest heavily in 2014 by improving biosecurity and focusing on adding value to the national market.

President of the Mexican Poultry Union (UNA) Jorge García de la Cadena Romero has confirmed that the industry there will invest over US$230 million to modernise the sector and to strengthen its infrastructure and industrialisation processes.

These resources will give Mexico a modern poultry infrastructure in order to guarantee the production of safe food, not only for the internal market but also for export.

A significant international partnership has been formed with the aim to breed more disease-resistant and heat-tolerant chickens for Africa.

The new effort is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of Feed the Future, the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative. The programme aims to increase dramatically chicken production among African rural households and small farms to advance food security, human nutrition and personal livelihoods.

The international research team is led by Huaijun Zhou of the University of California Davis and includes scientists from Ghana and Tanzania.

On environmental sustainability in its widest sense, divisions have been sharply highlighted the last few weeks in a battle between top scientists over the safety of Genetically Modified (GM) crops and foods.

On the one hand, the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility has rejected claims by seed developers and some scientists and commentators that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GM.

On the other hand, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council says that the overwhelming evidence points to the safety of these crops.

Also on on environmental sustainability, new phosphorus rules from 2015 in the Chesapeake Bay area in the US states of Delaware and Maryland will impact the chicken litter business there but they open the possibility of using the litter as a bioenergy source.

Environmental concerns are not limited to the US. Agriculture Ministers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) have signed a joint statement in Brazil to minimise the negative effects of climate change on agriculture and food security.

The statement is for cooperation initiatives within and outside of the BRICS, to foster the production of foods that are less dependent on climatic effects.

In terms of animal welfare as part of the ethical element of sustainability, a recent newspaper article - 'USDA plan to speed up poultry-processing lines could increase risk of bird abuse' - brought a swift response from the National Chicken Council (NCC) to point out that processors do their utmost to ensure good animal welfare.

The main concern of the newspaper article was that line speeds in poultry plants will be too fast to ensure efficient, accurate and safe inspection and to ensure that diseased and contaminated birds do not enter the food chain. These concerns have been raised by the inspectors' union and welfare groups across the US.

In its response to the article, NCC said: "The figures cited by the Washington Post represent one one-hundredth of one per cent (0.01 per cent) of the chickens we process for meat per year. But the industry is working every day to get those figures as close to zero as possible. In fact, the National Chicken Council's Animal Welfare Guidelines for Broilers will be updated this year to help achieve that goal."

Highlighting that progress has already been made by the poultry industry towards greater sustainability, a new study from the US Egg Industry Center in the US shows that egg production can now demonstrate greater sustainability and lower emissions.

The study found that, compared to 1960, today's egg production results in less polluting emissions, including 71 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions. Hens now use 32 per cent less water per dozen eggs produced and just a little over half the amount of feed to produce a dozen eggs. The birds produce 27 per cent more eggs per day and are living longer.

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