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Headlines Published on 25 May 2005

Title A chicken and egg story

The age-old dilemma – which came first the chicken or the egg? – raises its head again in an unexpected way thanks to two projects funded by the European Commission and coordinated by France’s Institut Nationale de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA).

The EU project BBP discovered how feed intake affects breeding chickens. © BBP
The EU project BBP discovered how feed intake affects breeding chickens.
While neither of the two EU-funded projects – Broiler Breeder Production (BBP) and Eggdefence – can lay the chicken-egg riddle to rest once and for all, they can lay claim to successfully completing three years of research aimed at improving the quality and safety of poultry meat and egg production, respectively, in Europe.

With over €1.5 million in Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) funding in hand, BBP set out, in their words, to “solve a paradox” by reconciling demands for faster and more efficient chicken reproduction and growth with the demand for high quality, safe end-products. For this, a team of scientists from France, Belgium and the UK, led by INRA’s Michel Picard, studied feeding regimes and chicken genetics.

The scientists managed to define a relationship between genetic indicators and the quality of broiler chicks – chickens intended for eating. They also identified best practices for incubating and feeding chicks to achieve a higher quality final output, the results of which have been disseminated across Europe via the European Federation of the World’s Poultry Science Association and multimedia communications.

Their findings, which are available on-line and in a handy CD-ROM format, will help European poultry producers overcome the ‘growth-welfare paradox’ currently affecting the industry. According to the team, their conclusions will also inform legislators on how best to produce chicken meat in the European Union, especially given the increased public attention focused on food security, as reflected in EU research activities, such as via the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

Hatching a good plan
Now putting the egg after the chicken, the second of these successful EU-funded agricultural research projects, called Eggdefence, optimised the quality and safety of table eggs with new egg sorting and production methods which also improve the welfare of hens.

The team – led by INRA’s Yves Nys and comprising 12 partners from France, Germany, Belgium, the UK, Spain, Sweden and Canada – produced studies comparing different designs for conventional and furnished cages with a view to improving egg quality and, among other things, reducing the level of soiling on the shells and boosting the eggs’ natural defences using traditional and modern genetic techniques.

This work guides progress towards meeting the EU Directive (1999/74) which calls for a phasing out of conventional battery cages by 2012 “in favour of ‘alternative’ egg laying systems (enriched cages or aviary)”, notes the team.   

With over €2.6 million in EU funds, the researchers looked at a number of factors affecting bacterial infection in eggs, including the condition and layout of housing, eggshell structure and resilience, and the temperature and age of eggs. They also developed new, more gentle methods for screening and sorting eggs.

Eggdefence has actively disseminated its findings to experts in the field, including the European veterinary and poultry science associations. Members of the team have also presented the project’s results at events, such as the European Symposium on the Quality of Eggs and Egg Products, held this week in the Netherlands. New tools developed by the project will be put to immediate use by two partners which, together, produce over 90% of the commercial hens in Europe. 

Source:  EU projects

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