Challenges Facing the Global Poultry Industry to 2020

by 5m Editor
29 May 2011, at 12:00am

Consequences of animal welfare regulations, food safety, house environment and a number of issues relating to nutrition and feeding were identified as future challenges to the poultry industry by A.M. Penz Jr and D.G. Bruno of Provimi America Latina in Brazil in a presentation at this year's Australian Poultry Science Symposium.


The increasing demand for animal products resulting from demographic factors, technical and scientific developments, diminishing resources, and increasing consumer demands for more food safety, lower environmental impact, and better animal welfare conditions will determine the development of the poultry industry during the next decade.

In this scenario, the traceability of poultry products will be essential. This requires the careful selection of input suppliers, with the focus on product quality rather than on price. Monitoring flock health status will also be the key for the safe expansion of the poultry industry. As to the rearing environment, heat production by broilers should be taken into account, and its utilisation considered as an alternative energy source.

In the field of nutrition and food technology, the most significant aspects will be the use of enzymes, the evaluation of non-nutritional factors, which may maximise ingredient utilisation by the birds (feed processing and particle size), the utilisation of new synthetic amino acids on an industrial scale, the application of new feed formulation concepts to improve dietary energy utilisation, the use of nutraceuticals to modulate intestinal microbiota and the immune system as an alternative to therapeutics, and the use of special pre-starter diets.

Feedstuffs should no longer be considered as commodities. Qualitative and nutritional criteria should be used for their purchase and segregation in feed mills. Technologies allowing the immediate analysis of feedstuffs, such as NIRS, will be required. Genetic engineering will become an important tool to improve feedstuff nutritional quality and, perhaps, bird performance.

In this sophisticated context, growth modelling and data-analysis using computer systems will allow more robust decision-making, which will be the key for the sustainability and success of the poultry industry.


In the last few years, agricultural production has experienced significant development due to an increasing demand for food by the world's population. This demand results particularly from the increase in the global population, as well as in average income and urbanisation. The United Nations (UN) estimates that there will be eight billion people on the planet by 2030, whose income will be, on average, 32 per cent higher than in 2006. In addition, meat consumption per person per year will increase by 26 per cent in the same period, and this increase in consumption will be chicken meat, in particular (FAO, 2010; OECD-FAO, 2010).

However, these are not the only factors that will influence the evolution of the poultry industry in this coming decade. Technical factors and the evolution of science and technology, the availability of natural resources and water (which are becoming increasingly limited), and the maintenance of trade barriers must also be considered.

The price of raw materials for feed production will also influence poultry production in the next few years. According to OECD-FAO (2010) estimates, feedstuff prices will be higher than the historical average between 2010 and 2019, but lower than the peaks experienced in 2007 and 2008.

Finally, consumer demands will have a strong influence as these demands are becoming increasingly concerned with animal welfare issues, food safety, and environmental impact relative to poultry production. New methods to assess the economic and environmental impact of poultry production have been developed. An example is the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), an ISO-standardised procedure that proposes to evaluate the impact of poultry production during the entire flock life cycle, from raw material purchase, waste production and treatment, to production surplus recycling and disposal on the environment (van der Werf and Prudêncio da Silva, 2010).

The objective of this article is to discuss some of the challenges that the poultry industry will have to face during this coming decade and the production, nutrition, and technology trends that will allow it to overcome these challenges.

Animal Welfare and its Consequences

"Among the challenges for the next decade are to create standardised parameters for poultry welfare assessment and robust systems to monitor those parameters."

The welfare of animal production can be accessed from two perspectives: through anthropomorphism, where consumers put themselves in the place of livestock and make conclusions about their welfare often based in subjective ideas, or through animal performance. Animals that are reared in poor welfare conditions are not able to express their maximum genetic potential. Consumer concerns relative to poultry welfare are becoming increasingly relevant in the meat market.

There is a positive correlation between the strictness of welfare legislation and income of the citizens of a country and consequently their purchasing power (van Horne and Achterbosch,2008). These concerns are evident, particularly in the European Union, and examples are Directives 1999/74/EC and 2007/43/EG, which established the ban on conventional cages for commercial egg production after 2012, and maximum broiler density, respectively.

Among the challenges for the next decade are to create standardised parameters for poultry welfare assessment and robust systems to monitor those parameters. This is the aim of the Welfare Quality project developed in the European Union, which proposes to assess animal welfare focusing on animals, and not on environmental or management factors, and using objective indicators that can be easily measured in the field, according to four principles: good feeding, good housing, good health status and adequate behaviour (Arnould and Butterworth, 2010).

Food Safety

"Health monitoring of the flocks is and will become increasingly important."

Food contamination by pathogens is the main concern of consumers (IFC, 2010). Supplying this demand for safer food requires transparency and commitment by all the parties involved in the process of food production, including governments. Each step of the food supply chain will be increasingly controlled, with emphasis on risk monitoring through preventive and corrective actions (analysis and monitoring critical control points). This requires careful selection of input suppliers, focusing on product quality and not price, which requires evaluation and maintenance plans, understanding the process and the materials used by suppliers, and technical knowledge on physical, chemical, and microbiological risks.

In the feed mills during the next decades, automation will increase, with lower exposure of workers to operational risks, and more emphasis will be placed on critical control points, which will be monitored just in time, and on real-time traceability. Andree and Schwaegele (2010), who participated in the development of a project to analyse existing or potential vulnerable points in food production chains, said the loss of information or of traceability is the main risk factor for the entrance of contaminants into the process of animal feed production. Giving proper attention to these new requirements is of great importance for the poultry industry, particularly considering the exporting countries, which must comply with the increasing demands of the importers.

Health monitoring of the flocks is and will become increasingly important, not only to prevent foodborne disease but also to avoid performance losses and to ensure bird welfare. Compliance with health programmes (cleaning and disinfection, vaccination, pest control, disease monitoring), immediate notification and record of abnormal situations, health monitoring programmes and measures for infection control and eradication must be put in place, particularly in a scenario where the use of antimicrobial compounds is increasingly restricted.


Thermal comfort inside poultry facilities is essential, as unfavourable environmental conditions significantly affect production. Both excessive cold and heat may cause production losses and impair bird health and welfare and, in extreme situations, increase bird morbidity and/or mortality. The evolution of technology and of the knowledge on thermoregulation physiology and behaviour will reduce mistakes in poultry house design and in bird management that can cause thermal discomfort. The development of information technology allows new techniques in the study of broiler thermal comfort, such as the use of real-time image analysis using video cameras, image-acquisition hardware, and image-analysing software programmes to acquire, process and evaluate information (Moura et al., 2010).

Interestingly, inside broiler houses, 80 per cent of the heat is not produced by lamps or brooding systems but by the birds themselves. Proper evaluation of this heat production may allow creating mechanisms for the utilisation of this energy, which could be translated in significant cost savings.

Nutrient Utilisation and Feed Formulation

Out of the trends currently observed and that will define how nutritionists are going to formulate diets in the next 10 years is the increasing cost of raw materials and the pressures to reduce feed costs and nutrient environmental excretion will be emphasised. These factors will cause diets to be formulated more accurately, avoiding large safety margins. The biofuel industry will compete for raw materials used for animal feeding, and will require the utilisation of its byproducts. In this case, knowledge of the analysis of the nutritional content and digestibility of these materials, which are not yet standardised, as in the case of distillers dried grain solubles (DDGS), for example in the US, should be developed.

In this context, enzymes will be increasingly used, as they improve ingredient digestibility and nutrient absorption (Cowan et al., 1996), as well as reduce the detrimental effects of anti-nutritional factors, thereby allowing higher flexibility in the use of feedstuffs as well as reducing feed costs (Ferket, 2009) and pollutant excretion in animal waste (Penz-Jr and Bruno, 2010).

Higher emphasis will also be placed on anti-nutritional factors that change energy and nutrient availability for broilers, using particle size and diet processing to maximise nutrient supply. Better pelleting, expansion and extrusion processes, among others, will be developed, in terms of physical aspects (temperature, moisture, pressure, time) and their effects on nutrient utilisation (Ferket, 2009).

Skinner-Noblet et al. (2005) observed that pelleting improves effective dietary energy value by changing the behaviour of broilers, which includes higher feed intake of birds fed pelleted feed. Methodologies to evaluate the impact of heat stress during corn (Métayer et al., 2009) and soybean meal drying (Helmbrecht et al., 2010) on their nutritional quality are currently available. Corn particle size and density may also result in different nutrient digestibility, and should be better evaluated. Hetland et al. (2002) observed higher starch digestibility in broilers fed whole wheat grain as compared to those fed ground wheat. Parsons et al. (2006) concluded that higher particle sizes promote a linear increase in the feed efficiency of broilers. Figueiredo et al. (2009) observed that corn density is directly related to its metabolisable energy content.

As to protein nutrition, new synthetic amino acids, produced at competitive prices, will become commercially available. In addition to lowering feed costs, this will also reduce nitrogen excretion in the environment (Nahm, 2002). Research on the next limiting amino acids after threonine will be extremely important, and their requirements will have to be evaluated not only relative to lysine, but also as to minimum intake and impact of their use under practical broiler production conditions (Kidd, 2009). For instance, the use of valine for broilers, whose beneficial effects were demonstrated by Corzo et al. (2009), is becoming a reality.

Energy is usually the most expensive nutritional component of poultry diets. Therefore, a higher efficiency in its utilisation will result in lower feed cost. One of the strategies to be considered is formulating diets not only takes into account a feedstuff’s metabolisable energy but also its net energy defined as metabolisable energy minus energy loss due to heat increment, that is, the energy that is effectively used for production. This strategy may allow reducing feed cost and nutrient excretion (Mohen et al., 2005) and it is currently being discussed in Australia by the Poultry Cooperative Research Centre (Clements, 2010).

The utilisation of trace minerals will be determined by a better understanding of their interaction with the immune system, as well as on the quality of their sources, preventing final product contamination with residues. In addition, further research on the differences between organic and inorganic sources is also needed.

Interaction between Nutrition and Intestinal Health

Use of additives: an economic, political or technical issue?

The restrictions on the use of antimicrobials as growth promoters – due to consumer demands and to the recent understanding of the interaction between nutrients and intestinal health, intestinal microbiota and the immune system – will require nutritionists to change their paradigms. It seems that there will be an increasing need to concentrate efforts in the modulation of the intestinal microbiota and immune system through the use of nutraceutics, instead of controlling enteric diseases with therapeutic compounds (Ferket, 2009). Moreover, complying with the recommendations related to flock health management and farm biosecurity will become increasing critical.

Today, there is a wide range of nutraceuticals available in the market, including acidifiers, prebiotics, probiotics, essential oils, enzymes, osmoregulators, nucleotides, zinc oxide, etc.

Perinatal nutrition

Due to genetic improvement and a reduction in market age, the perinatal period of broilers corresponds to 50 per cent of their life cycle. Therefore, nutritional management during this stage, aimed at ensuring the proper supply of water and feed to the birds, will become increasing critical. Studies have shown the consequences of feed and/or water restriction during the first hours of the chick’s life, resulting in intestinal villi damage (Geyra et al., 2001; Viola et al., 2009). It was demonstrated that access to energy and nutrients immediately after hatching accelerates intestinal development and consequently, broiler growth (Uni et al., 1998).

In this context, the supply of specific nutrients and the establishment of specific management practices dedicated to this phase will become increasingly important, and pre-starter diets will be extensively supplied.

Another technology that is becoming more popular is in-ovo nutrition, when nutrients are injected into the amniotic fluid of embryos during the last stage of incubation, stimulating the development and maturation of the intestinal villi before hatch.

Foye et al. (2007) observed that chicks submitted to in-ovo feeding had higher concentrations of digestive enzymes. Kornasio et al. (2010) also found higher breast muscle yield in broilers fed in-ovo caused by the influence of nutrients on muscle satellite cells.

Feed Mill

"To accommodate ingredient differences, the segregation concept must be implemented in feed mills."

Regarding feed mill structure, in the near future, there are at least two challenges for the animal protein industry.

The first one is related to the regulatory issues implemented by different countries, looking forward to product traceability and production sustainability. In 2005, the EU nations established the regulation 183/2005/CE that was implemented at beginning of 2006. The main objective was related to animal feed hygiene, to guarantee animal and human feed and food safety. Regulations like these stimulated different countries, especially the meat exporter ones, to start implementing good manufacturing practices (GMP) locally in their feed mills. All these new regulations require investments in feed mill structures and good database information to preserve traceability of the final product that the consumers would have available.

The second one is the understanding of the segregation of ingredients concept. So far, corn and soybean are mainly considered by their traders as commodities. The final nutrient composition does not always make an important difference in negotiations. In the future, this oversimplification will not be acceptable, once feedstuffs will continue representing at least 70 per cent of the final cost of a business that more and more will be tied by cost efficiency.

So, ingredient nutrient variations caused by plant cultivar, processing, harvest year, nutritional density, presence of mycotoxins, etc., will need to be more seriously considered if the main purpose of the business will be reaching the precision nutrition concept. As an example, Zhou et al. (2010) observed that amylose-to-amylopectin ratio is one of the main factors that determines true metabolisable energy of corn, and can be used to predict available energy for poultry. Li et al. (2000), through genetic engineering, were able to improve the nutritional quality of corn, developing low-phytate varieties. Neoh and Ng (2006), studying soybean meal coming from Malaysia, USA and Argentina, were able to identify differences in apparent metabolisable energy of the samples that influenced the performance of the broilers.

Therefore, it is clear that at least these ingredients can no longer be considered as commodities, and their qualitative and quantitative aspects must be taken into account when someone is making purchasing decisions.

To accommodate ingredient differences, the segregation concept must be implemented in feed mills. This will demand investments in silos to store different batches, according to nutritional characteristics of the ingredients. For corn and other cereals, besides investment in silos, feed mills will need to implement cleaning structures and gravity separators should become a common practice to separate them based on their densities. However, the implementation of ingredient segregation is limited to wet chemistry techniques, which are usually expensive and time-consuming. This limitation may be overcome by the use of NIRS (Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy), that allows immediate analysis of energy as well as amino acid composition and digestibility of each feedstuff batch (Penz-Jr et al., 2009). So, the design of new feed mills will have to consider the use of NIRS, providing more storage, dosing, and milling flexibility, which will allow savings that are not feasible today due to the lack of this physical infrastructure.

Use of Available Knowledge and Technological Innovation

The progress in information technology will allow the application of growth models and several related mathematical equations, which will estimate animal growth according to rearing conditions. The ultimate objective will be optimising the rearing process as a function of the company’s or farmer’s needs. Feed intake and broiler growth prediction models under different scenarios, such as those developed by Emmans, Fisher and Gous, will allow better definition of strategies that will favour production efficiency. Gous (2005) also mentioned that the idea of abandoning the conventional formulation proposal and adopting a dynamic proposal, based on several factors in addition to those considered in least-cost formulations, is not new.

In addition to growth models, simulation models could also be used to evaluate risks and to optimize financial return using data mining (correlations, classifications, associations, neural networks, and clustering) and data analysis by bioinformatics, meta-analysis, and holo-analysis techniques (Ferket, 2009). Geographic information systems (GIS) are already used for production zoning and viewing, allowing correlation of performance parameters with the geographical location of poultry houses in terms of altitude, latitude and longitude. These tools are becoming increasingly important to make decisions as to which product should be used to maximise the economic performance of birds under different rearing conditions. However, the efficient use of these tools depends on the availability of detailed and accurate data, with a complete house inventory.

There are even more futuristic tools that control animal performance in real time. The IMS technique (Integrated Management Systems) aims at providing a completely on-line and real-time system, with no human interference, except when a problem is detected. This technique is operated by a visual image analysis (VIA) system that, using video cameras placed inside the poultry house, allows the continuous collection of images. By measuring bird area and length, bird body weight and carcass yield may be determined with an accuracy similar to that of conventional tables (Penz-Jr et al., 2009). This technique is already used for pigs in Europe, and prediction measures for broilers are still under study because the feathers make the true measure of meat surface area difficult (Green and Parsons, 2006).

In scientific innovation, a new field of knowledge nutrigenomics must be considered. Nutrigenomics studies the molecular relationships between nutrition and gene response, and aims at understanding how gene expression is induced by nutrients or feeding regimes, with consequent influence on performance parameters.


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May 2011