In a recent issue of National Graphic, Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, poses the question, “By 2050 we’ll need to feed two billion more people. How can we do that without overwhelming the planet?” Poultry offers a promising solution for feeding the world’s rapidly expanding population with a nutritious, affordable protein source. And thanks to innovations introduced by primary poultry breeders over the years, it has also become a healthy and sustainable solution that helps to conserve earth’s resources while promoting the businesses of poultry producers. Primary poultry breeders are working together with the broiler industry and other allies to raise public awareness and improve transparency on important issues regarding bird welfare, food safety and environmental impact.
As the world’s leading poultry breeding company, Aviagen has developed a breeding program that promotes poultry health, welfare and performance, while at the same time fostering environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Poultry: a nutritious, affordable protein source
Present throughout the human body in each and every muscle, bone and tissue, protein is essential to life. The American National Academy of Medicine recommends 8 grams of protein for every 20 pounds (9.1 kilograms) of body weight. Lack of protein can result in serious health issues and around the world, millions of people suffer from protein malnutrition. The building blocks of protein are amino acids. Unlike plant-based protein sources, animal meat provides all of the essential amino acids needed to form a complete protein (Harvard Nutrition Source).
Leading health organizations such as the American Heart Association and World Health Organization agree that chicken is a nutritious, lean source of protein. Consuming healthy proteins can lower the risk of heart diseases and numerous other health issues.
Not only does chicken supply the complete amino acids needed by the human body, it is also affordable and available for families of all socio-economic levels around the world. According to the OECD/FAO Outlook for 2016-2025, “Poultry meat consumption increases regardless of the region and income level. Per capita consumption is growing even in the developed world. Worldwide, poultry has grown rapidly and will surpass [pork] as the preferred animal protein during the outlook period. The additional poultry meat consumed during the outlook period will be nearly equivalent to the additional consumption quantities of all other meats combined.”
Finally, its acceptability goes beyond any cultural or religious boundaries.
Consumers demand variety
To remain competitive in a consumer-driven market, poultry producers must develop their products to meet market demands. That’s why Aviagen offers a breadth of high-quality products to satisfy assorted market requirements worldwide, including established markets, as well as slower-growing, organic and free-range niche sectors.
Aviagen focuses very significantly on R&D to provide high-generation breeding stock designed to meet specific needs of a broad spectrum of markets. The company maintains many genetically diverse populations in its global gene pool to meet expected and widely ranging future needs.
Specialty markets are gaining in popularity, with retail chains such as Whole Foods, Panera Bread, Chipotle, TGIF, Compass Group and Aramark recently announcing a move toward organic, slower-growing and free range poultry based on demands by their customer bases. Aviagen slower-growing poultry brands meet the criteria for many accredited animal welfare programs worldwide.
Savvy modern consumers demand sound welfare practices
While insisting on a broad choice, contemporary consumers also think about where their animal protein comes from and are concerned with how it is raised and treated. They demand end-to-end supply chain knowledge and transparency, from the primary breeder, to the poultry grower, to the retailer.
Welfare excellence depends both on how you treat the birds and how you breed the birds
Bird welfare depends not only on how you treat the birds, but also on how you breed the birds. Aviagen birds are bred in a balanced way that promotes overall health, fitness and disease resistance. They are selected for skeletal, metabolic, cardiovascular and reproductive fitness, resulting in birds with greater vitality and well-being than ever before. Breeding advancements have also led to greater livability and adaptability to a variety of production environments.
Traditional selection methods for improved welfare traits include physical assessment by trained, benchmarked and specialized professionals. While this technique is still valuable and irreplaceable today, Aviagen has augmented the breeding program with non-invasive medical technologies to bring about breeding innovations.
Aviagen was the first poultry breeder to apply to the breeding program high-level technology advancements from disciplines such as astronaut health support and the human medical field.
Oximeter for cardiovascular health. As a good example, Aviagen began using the pulse oximeter decades ago to improve cardiovascular health in poultry by measuring blood oxygen levels. Just as technological innovations in the medical field are intended to improve the health, longevity and well-being of people, Aviagen was the first to implement many of these innovations to further the health and welfare of Aviagen’s high-generation birds and their progeny.
X-ray and lixiscope for leg health. Because leg health is critical to overall health, in addition to a thorough physical examination of each bird’s leg health, Aviagen was the first breeding company to start using the lixiscope, a real time x-ray device to detect subclinical leg defects. Since Aviagen began breeding for leg health 25 years ago, the company has seen tremendous leg health improvements across all of its poultry breeding lines.
3D Imaging for whole body fitness. Aviagen was also the first breeder to use advanced 3D imaging for whole-body assessment. This novel approach allows an assessment of the whole body to simultaneously improve meat yield and quality, as well as skeletal health.
Genomics Information for breeding. Genomics is the use of naturally occurring variations in DNA to increase selection accuracy. In 2012 Aviagen was the first poultry breeding company to include genomics information in the routine selection of its pedigree lines, in addition to the physical bird information. Genomics data is combined with all other available sources of information to provide more accurate genetic predictions for both broiler and breeder performance traits.
Excellent care promotes bird health and welfare
Health and welfare are further championed by the care and respect shown to the birds. Everyone who comes in contact with the Aviagen birds is thoroughly trained in providing the best care for them. To ensure good welfare and compliance, Aviagen has developed and implemented a welfare assurance system with internal and external audits. The independent external audits are certified by an independent accredited quality certification body.
Additionally, Aviagen’s biosecure feed is specially formulated to meet the birds’ nutritional needs and their living environments are controlled to optimize bird health and comfort.
Strict biosecurity protects food safety
At Aviagen, extensive resources are committed to protecting flocks from outside pathogen. All Aviagen facilities follow intense biosecurity guidelines.
Countries may use compartmentalization to define and maintain certain animal subpopulations or “compartments” that have been approved to have a distinct health status and common biosecurity program (Lindsey, 2017).
Thus, in the event of a disease outbreak within a specific area, compartmentalization is a way to expedite stock export from approved facilities. By effectively applying the compartmentalization concept, Aviagen ensures that a safe supply of healthy poultry is available in the U.S. and worldwide. Aviagen was the first breeding company to achieve compartmentalization status in the U.K., and expects to achieve the status in the U.S. by the end of this year.
Spreading health and welfare messages through transparency and communication
Aviagen works to create transparency and communication with both its customers, stakeholders, and the wider poultry industry. Peer-reviewed professional journal articles and publications on topics such as welfare and sustainability serve to inform the public on the far-reaching benefits of breeding improvements.
Environmental, economic benefits stimulated by industry-leading FCR
Director Foley’s consideration about “overwhelming the planet” echoes the concern of the modern consumer. In the same way that consumers care where their food comes from, it also matters to them how their food impacts the environment.
Environmental sustainability is at the heart of Aviagen breeding programs. Aviagen birds lead the industry in feed conversion ratio (FCR). FCR is an industry-standard measurement of an animal’s biological efficiency in converting feed to live body weight. Thus, with improved FCR, less feed is needed to produce healthier, more productive birds.
Sustainability is at the heart of our breeding programs; realized FCR improvements mean that nowadays chicken production requires much less land to grow feed grains than would have been required three decades ago. Due to feed conversion improvements over the last 30 years, approximately 36 million acres of crop land have already been freed up and, at the current level of global broiler production, an close to an additional 1.2 million acres are being added to that number every year. At the same time, the health, welfare and robustness of our breeds have improved greatly, thus adding to overall efficiency. Additionally, Aviagen provides a choice of fast and slower-growing breeds for the various market segments, and we maintain many genetically diverse populations in our global gene pool to meet the expected widely ranging future needs.
Breeding enhancements yield wide-ranging benefits
Poultry has emerged as a sustainable way to supply a surging demand for nutritious protein. Throughout the years, Aviagen’s welfare-aimed breeding approach has engendered improvements in feed efficiency, along with giant leaps forward in poultry health, welfare and performance. Thus, today’s conventional chickens have the potential to feed more people than ever before, while the environmental footprint of poultry production has been reduced. Moreover, with a wide selection of birds bred to meet the needs of varied markets – slower-growing, conventional, free range and organic to name a few – consumers can now choose the poultry products that match their personal preferences. In the end, Aviagen’s breeding ingenuity means good performance for the poultry producer, a high level of welfare for the birds, a variety of consumer choices and healthy meat to effectively feed a growing population.
American Heart Association web site. “Eat More Chicken, Fish and Beans.”
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Eat-More-Chicken-Fish-and-Beans_UCM_320278_Article.jsp#.WOWfLbk2zb0, accessed April 2017.
Lindsey, Christina DVM, MSpVM. “Compartmentalization Update,” NPIP OSHA Meeting,
May 16, 2017.
The economist. “Chicken is set to rule the roost in the global meat market.” The Economist. Sept. 14, 2014. http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21586306-chicken-set-rule-roost-global-meat-market-henmania.)
The Harvard Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/. Accessed 4/5/2017).
OECD-FAO Meat Chapter 2016 - OECD/FAO (2016), “Meat”, in OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2016-2025, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/agr_outlook-2016-10-en