Selenium deficiency in poultry is associated with decreased productive and reproductive performances, and the development of various diseases affecting major body systems, including the muscles, heart-vascular and nervous system. Addressing selenium deficiencies, however, does not only improve poultry health, there is also the potential for selenium-enriched food to benefit human health. This offers innovative poultry companies the opportunity to add value, differentiate and become more competitive.

Poultry and poultry products are important sources of essential amino acids, minerals, vitamins and other nutrients. However, consumers have been demanding poultry and poultry products with greater functionality for health and well-being, and selenium enrichment satisfies that consumer requirement.

By 2050, the global population will be 9.3 billion. The World Bank recently reported that global food demand will double by 2030, as the global population increases. Arguably, providing enough calories for the increasing population should be manageable, but it’s the quality of these calories that will be the real challenge.

Reasons for optimism  

The functional food market is set to increase for three reasons:

  1. The ageing population is increasing; decreasing fertility along with lengthening life expectancy has reshaped the age structure of the population in most regions of the planet.
  2. Lifestyle-related diseases, particularly those related to diet such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes, are the world’s biggest killers (a problem that is affecting not only health but economies and societies).
  3. Providing food that is both natural and convenient is still a key success factor.

A leading consultancy firm has estimated that the global market for functional foods will increase from $78 billion in 2007 to $128 billion in 2013.

How can value be added to poultry and poultry products?

A case study from Europe   

Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 ensures that any claim made on a food label in the EU is clear, understandable to consumers and substantiated by scientific evidence. This has the effect of assisting consumers in making healthy food choices and, as such, should help reduce the incidence of diet related diseases, or at least curb the worsening trends.

Between 2008 and June 2011, the European Food Safety Authority assessed 2,758 food-related, general-function health claims to determine whether they were supported by sound scientific evidence. The overall success rate has been low. However, organic selenium received a positive opinion from the EFSA. In this opinion, the EFSA found a direct causal link between the consumption of meat, milk and eggs enriched with organic selenium and antioxidant activity, thyroid function and immune function.

There are very few claims from which poultry producers can choose, but organic selenium offers one solution. When claims which have the stamp of approval from EFSA are used, consumers know that they can trust them. They add real value and producers can demand a premium price. Functional foods are typically marketed around the globe as premium products and sold at 15% to 20% above the average market price.

In order to make claims about antioxidant activity, thyroid function and/or immune function, the meat or eggs must be enriched with organic selenium via animal feed. The selenium must be from an approved source of organic yeast. The selenium in the food must also be present at 15% of the recommended daily allowance which equates to 8.25 micrograms of selenium per 100g or 100ml of product.

However, it is important to remember that simply increasing the selenite dose in the breeder's diet is not effective in increasing selenium concentration in eggs or meat. The source must be organic selenium.

Why enrich with selenium?   

  • The average human intake of selenium is below the recommended daily allowance. Suboptimal selenium intakes can be a risk factor for adverse health conditions and diseases.
  • Consumers have greater awareness of the need for increased selenium in the diet. This creates a consumer pull effect.
  • Rising input costs affect branded food products less than private label offerings. Companies that are best positioned to charge higher prices without a significant hit to volume are the ones with strong brand equities, rather than those firms competing in categories where consumers tend to consider price rather than brand when making purchase decisions.
  • Innovations that resonate with consumers are said to be "winning at the shelf."
  • Inclusion of organic selenium in poultry diets also improves performance.

While the process of scientifically substantiating claims on food can use up substantial resources in individual companies, there are opportunities for the poultry industry to differentiate by using the claims mentioned above to market it.
Against a backdrop of an ageing population and a world in which noncommunicable diseases are the cause of millions of deaths each year, the functional food market is set to boom. In the case of organic selenium, when it is added to animal feed, the benefits are two-fold in terms of food quality and animal performance. What’s good for the animal is good for the human and good for the bottom line.