Business & Policy
FROM THE EDITOR: September 2006
What a difference 50 years make.
By Kristy Nudds
What a difference 50 years make. Researchers from the Poultry Research Centre at the University of
Alberta undertook a fascinating study to determine how far the poultry
industry has come in the last 50 years.
Flip to page six and it’s glaringly obvious just how much of an impact this statement makes. At first glance, the photos at the top of the page may appear to show the growth progression of a broiler from early weeks until processing.
Each photo represents a fully-grown bird of the same age. And no, your eyes are not playing tricks on you.
Researchers from the Poultry Research Centre at the University of Alberta undertook a fascinating study to determine how far the poultry industry has come in the last 50 years, with some very interesting results. It is neither groundbreaking nor revolutionary, but it is certainly no less important.
This study is significant for a multiple of reasons, the standouts being the amazing progress in poultry genetics that has been achieved and how consumers have been the driving force behind this progress.
What is most notable is that none of this progress has been achieved through artificial means, such as with the use of growth hormones or biotechnology. Poultry genes have not been manipulated artificially through the use of transgenesis. The enormous increase the industry has experienced with respect to improved feed efficiency and increased breast meat yield has been achieved through genetic selection and knowledge advancement.
Often, as author Dr. Valerie Carney points out, it is hard for someone outside of the industry to comprehend how such growth is possible without artificial intervention. She writes of how often she is asked about hormones, and how when she says the poultry industry does not use them, she is commonly asked – often with a distrusting look and manner – how it is then that the birds get so big.
How many times have you had to defend this growth? I can think of at least 10 to 15 right off the top. And like Dr. Carney, I get the ‘yeah right’ look a scoff and a thought of how I most certainly must be biased.
You’re darn right I’m biased when it comes to correcting false beliefs – as well as ignorance. I think it’s easy to understand why it’s difficult for some consumers to believe that increases in meat yield has not resulted from the use of hormones when they can be easily swayed (and preyed upon) media reports spun out of comments from anti-meat and anti-agriculture groups.
A good friend of mine is case in point. She loved milk so much that she used to drink up to a litre of it daily. I began noticing that she wasn’t drinking it anymore, and I asked her why. “Because of the hormones they use,” was her response. I was rather shocked. I asked her what hormones, and she said the growth hormone that makes cows produce more milk.
The hormone she referred to is Bovine Somatotropin (BST). She was correct about one thing, that BST is a hormone used to increase milk production in dairy cattle. However, what she was grossly mistaken about was that its use is banned in Canada, and has been since the day it became available commercially.
So why did she believe this? Because her sister, a vegetarian, read about it and made assumptions. It was so disturbing to her that she didn’t bother to find out whether or not it was true.
I use vegetarians often to make a point because I feel in many ways they are victims of misinformation. I find that most often it is not always the slaughtering of animals for food, but their perception of how the animals are raised that contributes greatly to their decision to shun meat.
Vegetarians also demonstrate the extreme of what can happen when messages are blurred, or are simply unavailable.
That’s why the study in the first article in the magazine is so important. It’s analysis such as this that can provide both industry and consumers with the evidence that yes, as an industry we have achieved great things in 50 years – we were able to adapt to a dynamic and evolving market and we didn’t need to do it artificially.