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IPSF NEWS - 'Happy Chickens' Concept to Drive Future Research Priorities

by 5m Editor
28 January 2009, at 9:52pm

Dr Jim Perdue of Perdue Farms highlighted the growing need for research to support the changing requirements of the poultry industry, writes ThePoultrySite editor, Jackie Linden, from the International Poultry Science Forum (IPSF) in Atlanta.

The speaker invited to give the Milton Y. Dendy keynote address at the International Poultry Scientific Forum in Atlanta yesterday, 27 January, was Dr Jim Perdue, chairman of Perdue Farms. The theme of his presentation was: The poultry industry's current issues and considerations for the community involved in poultry research.

Dr Perdue, the third generation of the Perdue family on the company board, emphasised how successful the poultry industry has been, and how it is evolving. "Where is the industry heading?" he asked.

Emphasising the past successes of the industry, Dr Perdue said, "We are providing families around the world with safe, abundant and affordable source of protein."

Over the past 25 years, we have made great progress in increasing feed efficiency, reducing mortality and controlling disease as well as maintaining the trust of customers and consumers, he said.

However, he did warn that the days of cheap food in the US might soon be over. Where less than 12 per cent of disposable income in the US has been spent on food in recent years – compared to up to 20 per cent in Europe and 50 per cent in China – Americans could find themselves paying up to double that percentage on food in future. A major factor is the dramatic increase in corn-based ethanol production.

Live Production

Dr Perdue expects the interesting concept of 'happy chickens' to dominate the future of live production.

Regarding genetics, he sees more emphasis in future on meat quality, leg strength, disease resistance and behavioural welfare traits.

More new breeds will be developed for specific needs. Dr Perdue recounted how his father foresaw the importance of breast meat in the 1970s and was an early pioneer in breeding for this trait. At that time, birds were nervous and aggressive – traits that have much diminished today.

Breeding may well focus on ever more specific customer requirements, such as the size of the drumstick or shape of the breast.

There has been great progress in terms of hatchability and hatchery management, so that today, the hatchery can affect the first three weeks of grow-out. Chicks are now consistently higher quality, aided also by improved sanitation.

New methods are being developed to improve disease resistance, and Dr Perdue sees this as vital work in terms of trade as well as live production: any disease outbreak can be used by countries to ban poultry meat imports from the US. It is important to remove these issues, he said.

"Small increases in feed conversion efficiency have a big impact," Dr Perdue said about rising performance levels, "but improvements needs to come through better feed conversion on better feed."

There is increasing scrutiny by consumers and customers of feed ingredients and their origin, and it is important that the industry responds to their concerns appropriately.

The introduction of tunnel-ventilated houses was a significant step forward in improving broiler growth and efficiency, even in hot climates. There should now be more focus on research into behavioural enrichment in broiler houses.

A key area for the future, said Dr Perdue, is to improve the taste and texture of chicken meat.

Priorities for Processing Research

Dr Perdue sees a need to improve the welfare conditions during stunning and killing, not least because failures in these areas become all too apparent in carcasses that are cut up and/or de-boned.

Increasing the uniformity of birds coming into the plant will make these improvements more effective, and this all the more important as labour becomes scarce and more expensive, and the level of automation increases.

Products: Food Safety, Quality Issues

For products, areas requiring even more attention include food safety issues and quality. The factors defining quality are changing, said Dr Perdue, with a greater emphasis now on taste and convenience.

"What we really need is a 49-day-old chicken with the flavour of a spent hen," joked Dr Perdue.

Nowadays, consumers want to feel good about the food they are consuming, and green issues are no longer a minor consideration, he said. A growing number of the general public wants to know how their food is raised and what it is fed, and they are better informed than before. But it is essential that consumers get correct information, stressed Dr Perdue.

Emergence of Social Responsibility

Stakeholders are asking more questions and demanding greater transparency, explained Dr Perdue. He went on to emphasise the importance of third-party verification as industries are not trusted to self-verify.

Speaking about animal welfare and environmental stewardship, he said, "We have nothing to hide so show them." He uses the example of his own company's investment in a plant to process poultry litter into fertiliser. Admitting this enterprise does not make money, he added, "It was the right thing to do."

Working together with environmental groups can be rewarding to all involved, he said, citing as an example a successful project using buffer vegetation by the exhaust fans from a poultry house to reduce ammonia levels in a nearby watercourse.

The Way Ahead

Having highlighted the need to further research in a number of key areas for the future, Dr Perdue stated the need for closer collaboration between universities and the industry. "Research should not be driven solely by the pursuit of publication," he said.

There is a great need for more knowledge in a number of areas, he said, especially when working with certain groups that are highly negative to the poultry industry. Their pseudoscience can only be countered with clear facts.

Among the future challenges for the poultry industry are issues of economics, food safety, changing consumer demands and increasingly vocal and media-savvy critics.

Dr Perdue added that he was concerned by the latest announcement from the new US agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, that the top priorities of the new administration would include more government subsidies for the production of corn for ethanol, a reduction in the environmental impact of agriculture and the 'modernisation' of food safety. All these measures will add additional pressures to the poultry industry, predicted Dr Perdue.