Genetic modification has been a frequent topic of debate in the news for quite some time now. While it is frequently heard about in food circles, with the produce section of your local grocer being the area it is most widely discussed, it unfortunately does not stop there. Animals are being altered genetically as well, chickens included.
Aviagen is a company known for providing day-old chicks to commercial breeders, such as Sanderson Farms. These chicks are grandparent and parent stock and are sold to consumers around the world. Since the needs of consumers in each country are diverse and Aviagen wants to be able to cater to all of those needs, it is necessary for them to have flexible, adaptable breeding practices. This means performing genetic alterations to the birds they sell in order to get the most effective chicken for its intended purpose and destination. The goal is ultimately to provide birds that thrive and produce, although they have fallen short of the latter goal recently.
Photo: Poultry Hub
The Ross brand of chicken (the birds on Aviagen's website are referred to as brands, not breeds) has been struggling to reproduce recently. Roosters, specifically, have been unable to properly fertilize hens, resulting in problems with the hatch, essentially making it nonexistent in 15-17% of cases. These numbers are significant when it comes to operations that require their birds to have reliable reproductive abilities, and problems such as this have a large economic impact. As these birds struggle and/or fail to reproduce 15-17% of the time, it falls on those that purchase meat at the grocery store to shoulder the added expense. In other words, since these chickens are not reproducing successfully and efficiently, the cost of meat is being driven up.
The reason the Ross brand is having these fertility issues is due to a recent genetic tweak performed at Aviagen. This change, the specifics of which were not disclosed to the public, made the roosters extremely sensitive to overfeeding. The birds then grew to be overweight and their ability to reproduce has since suffered. While it has been said that the overweight birds did not breed as they should, it was not specified as to whether this is because they are unable to do so because of the excess weight they are carrying or if they simply lack the drive due to physical condition. Environmental factors, such as feed source and temperature of hatcheries, were evaluated and determined not to be a factor.
Photo: Catalysis Vet
As it currently stands in the chicken industry, it is a bad time for a shortage of birds, as the demand is up and continuing to rise. To accommodate the need for breeder birds, Aviagen has replaced the Ross brand with other birds and signs of improved fertilization are present. However, it will take some time for the pendulum to swing back into its previous position, meaning that the rise in chicken meat prices will likely be and remain present for the time being.
It is at times like this that raising our own meat birds is tempting to consider if you are not doing so already. The only way to truly safeguard ourselves against the perils of genetic modifications, if you believe they are perilous, is to raise our own meat chickens, feeding them a diet with which we are comfortable.
Do the genetic changes being made to animals for consumption concern you? Have you taken steps to avoid consuming genetically altered meat animals? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.