Production issues featured at Turkish poultry conference

From poultry meat quality to ensuring economic and environmental sustainability, the 5th International Poultry Meat Congress put the latest industry concerns in the spotlight.

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Courtesy BESD-BIR
Courtesy BESD-BIR

Production challenges came under the spotlight at the 5th International Poultry Meat Congress, recently held in Antalya, Turkey, and organized by industry association BESD-BIR.

As demand for poultry meat increases, these challenges can only be expected to intensify and various immediate and longer-term solutions were presented to delegates, ranging from ensuring sustainability of poultry production in the face of growing environmental concerns and the development of new sources of feed to tackling issues with broiler meat quality.

What is sustainable?

Is modern animal agriculture the defendant of climate change or its victim?

Professor Gianni Matteo Crovetto 2

Gianni Crovetto said that, where environmental impact and climate change are concerned, responsibilities must be quantified scientifically, and not simply follow public opinion. (Courtesy BESD-BIR)

The question was posed by Gianni Matteo Crovetto, professor at the State University of Milan, who went on to explain that the industry can be deemed to be both. But where responsibilities are concerned, it is paramount that they are properly identified and quantified scientifically, he said, and not simply apportioned emotionally, or by following public opinion.

Intensive production systems, which require high inputs but feed most of the world, may have associated negative sustainability risks, but what is important is to measure the environmental impact per kilogram of food produced, and when this is done a different picture emerges.

Reviewing the global warming potential of standard, free-range and organic poultry production, Crovetto said the standard has the lowest potential impact, while organic has the highest.

Animals need to perform at their best if output is to be maximized and demand for food satisfied, and agricultural efficiency has improved enormously over the past half century, leading to lower emissions intensities per kilogram of food produced.

Where poultry is concerned, the decline in emissions has been by 76% for chicken meat and by 57% for eggs. Since the 1950s, improvements in feedstuffs, genetics, buildings, management, hygiene and health have contributed to extraordinary boosts in animal production and improved productivity, resulting in a reduction in emission intensities while, at the same time, increasing meat output.

Yet low-cost, low-input extensive systems still supply 2 billion people around the world. They remain important providers of food, despite low production levels, and it is within these extensive, small-scale farms that the greatest impact can be made to improve sustainable supplies of animal protein and mitigate emissions.

And for those that may still hold a romantic view of what poultry production or any other form of agriculture should be, or indeed, that dismiss concerns over climate change, Crovetto reminded delegates that environmental and economic sustainability have to go hand in hand.

Feed ingredients of the future

Pressures on producers, environmental or otherwise, will continue to increase. Not least of these will be how to satisfy the increase in demand for feed and, according to Marinus van Krimpen, professor at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, simply giving more land over to production may not be the solution.

Professor Marinus Van Krimpen 3

According to Marinus van Krimpen, new feed sources that do not compete for arable land may be the solution for the poultry industry’s rising demand for feed. (Courtesy BESD-BIR)

There are various alternatives, however, to meet this growing demand, for example by raising the protein yield of today’s crops per hectare, improving animals’ protein efficiency, closing nutrient cycles to prevent waste, or by developing new, high-yielding sources of protein that do not compete with arable land.

New feed sources are under investigation, including micro- and macro-algae, duckweed, insects, leaf proteins and free amino acids, and Van Krimpen detailed work in some these fields.

Where algae are concerned, Van Krimpen said that, in some coastal regions, for example in Norway, Ireland, the U.K. and France, seaweed is already used in animal feed, and can constitute up to 10% of diets. The main species used is Ascophium nodosum, harvested from wild populations.

However, information on seaweed’s nutritional value and characteristics in feed is limited, although studies have recently been conducted on its composition.

Protein levels in seaweeds are not particularly high, and there can be significant variation in protein values. Digestibility is low due to fiber and other compounds.

Nevertheless, studies are ongoing, including, for example, on the prebiotic effects of red seaweeds in laying hens, and it may be that the health benefits of seaweeds are of the greatest immediate value. Research has examined the impact of an A nodusum extract on young broilers colonized with Campylobacter. While no improvement in performance was found, gut morphology was seen to improve.

Seaweed’s health-improving properties have been shown in in vitro and in vivo studies in broilers and its future use may center on finding a balance between aiding gut health and maintaining performance.

Where micro-algae are concerned, they contain high levels of fat and protein, making them attractive ingredients, but studies have found a variation in their benefits when included in diets. Protein levels can vary between 55% and 82%, depending on species and drying method.

Studies have found that, despite the potential for high protein yield, protein digestibility and bird performance vary, and drying and cell wall disruption may be important considerations.

Micro-algae too have health-improving properties, for example being antibacterial, antiviral and with high antioxidant levels.

Where leaf protein is concerned, several companies are working on grass processing. The protein content of these types of products is about 20%, while nitrogen digestibility appears promising yet, to date, only in vitro studies have been conducted.

Broiler meat quality

Broiler meat quality has become an issue globally over the past decade and Turkey is no exception. According to Servet Yalçin, professor at Ege University, 60-70% of broilers in Turkey are now affected by white striping.

Professor Servet Yalcin 4

Various studies have been undertaken in Turkey to look at how to alleviate breast myopathies. Servet Yalçin noted that  60-70% of broilers in Turkey are now affected by white striping. (Courtesy BESD-BIR)

Shai Barbut, professor at Guelph University, said meat quality and myopathies still need a solution, but that various proposals have been made and reviewed concerning issues including white striping, woody breast and deep pectoral myopathies.

The issue of white striping came to public prominence in 2016, although the industry had been aware of it for longer and, at that time, the cost to the U.S. industry alone was estimated at US$200 million annually. More recent estimates, however, have suggested that the cost to the U.S. industry could be in the region of US$1 billion. This is not, however, simply a U.S. issue.

White striping occurs when there are problems with blood supply. Damaged muscle is unable to repair itself and so is replaced with fat and connective tissue. It had been thought to be more prevalent in male birds; however, if male and female birds of exactly the same weight are compared, incidence may be higher in females.

Woody breast came to the public attention approximately 10 years ago and its cause and solution are still unknown.

Neither problem presents a safety issue for consumers. Some consumers have reported the affected meat is tougher once cooked, but this is not a universal finding.

While these quality issues are not as common in slower-growing birds, they can still occur and, while switching to slower-growing birds may, at first sight, seem to offer a solution, doing so would require such a large increase in production as to be impracticable.

Nevertheless, there is a genetic component, and breeding companies are developing birds that are still fast growing but with lower levels of myopathies.

Attempts to find more immediate solutions have included altering diets and various combinations of additives have been examined. Incubation temperature and time of hatch also play a role as they can influence the formation of satellite cells that differentiate to form muscle cells.

Another answer is to not sell meat as fresh and to cut it up, which can reduce hardness. However, cut-up meat is worth less than premium whole, fresh breast meat. If woody breast meat is kept for a few days, hardness will diminish.

Professor Shai Barbut 5

There are short- and long-term solutions to breast meat quality issues, Shai Barbut said, adding that genetics companies are working on birds that will be fast growing but unaffected by today’s problems. (Courtesy BESD-BIR)

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