Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chickens fed vegetarian diets are less healthy, more likely to fall ill

Chickens kept to strict vegetarian diets are less healthy and more susceptible to illnesses, Peter Whoriskey reports for The Washington Post. Many egg producers boast that their product comes from chickens fed vegetarian diets. "Yet for the chickens, who are natural omnivores that readily devour bugs and small animals when they’re available, the forced vegetarianism can be a disaster."

"Chickens on an unsupplemented vegetarian diet typically fall short of an essential protein-based amino acid known as methionine, and without it, they fall ill," Whoriskey writes. "Worse, the birds will also turn on each other, pecking at each other in search of nutrients, and these incidents can escalate into a henhouse bloodbath, farmers say."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tens of millions of organic chickens are raised in the U.S. each year, Whoriskey writes. "The vast majority of those organic chickens are fed a ration of corn and soy beans that is supplemented with a synthetic version of methionine. That might sound like a reasonable solution. But because this synthetic methionine is not from an organic source—or even a merely natural one—the federal organic program has been limiting how much farmers may feed their flocks. And those limits on artificial methionine, some farmers complain, have now been set so low that they harm the chickens."

Tracy Favre, a farmer and organic inspector who serves on the federal advisory board for organic products, told Whoriskey, “This is one of those problems caused by the fact that most Americans are so far removed from their food supply. When I see eggs in the supermarket being advertised as vegetarian this and that, I cringe.” (Read more)

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