October 8, 2003
Australia Benefits from Establishment of Poultry Centre
Australia chicken farmers and chicken-meat lovers are set to benefit from the establishment of a $78.8million Poultry Co-operative Research Centre.
The University of New England will host the centre, which is supported by 19 organisations.
It will be chaired by Jeff Fairweather, head of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation.
UNE vice-chancellor Ingrid Moses said the Poultry CRC was a "wonderful achievement" for the Armidale, NSW, campus.
"It strengthens even further our longstanding research and community linkages through agriculture," she said.
The main aim of the centre is to reduce use of antibiotics in chickens, enhance the health of birds and improve the environmental effect of farming. It will also aim to develop and commercialise new health products.
The $3 billion industry has been targeted for years by animal liberationists, who accuse growers of putting profit above humane farming practices.
The Australian industry employs 200,000 people, including those in related enterprises.
Poultry CRC executive officer Mingan Choct said more research in the area would be a victory for Australians. Chicken was fast overtaking beef as the meat of choice among Australians, with an average annual consumption of 34kg per person, Dr Choct said.
However, there were still many misconceptions in the community about chicken farming, he said. For example birds were fed hormones and harmful antibiotics.
A nutritionist, Dr Choct said chickens were not fed hormones and antibiotics were used in all types of animal production. Some growers used antibiotics to stop disease in meat, but not egg, chickens.
"We are going to try to find natural alternatives to antibiotics," Dr Choct said. "We want to increase the image of the industry."
The centre would have a strong community education program to dispel some of the misconceptions.
The idea for a research centre was considered 24 years ago, but the industry was not ready for it at that time, Dr Choct said. "Now we are facing an import threat and a discerning public," he said.
Animal Liberation NSW, a big critic of the industry, cautiously welcomed the Poultry CRC. Executive director Mark Pearson said he was sceptical about how research on commercial aspects of the industry could be combined with animal welfare considerations.
"If it's going to focus on the welfare impact we welcome it," Mr Pearson said.
"But we have grave concerns when a fairly ruthless industry is backing it. [We'd prefer to see] more external regulation."
The chicken industry is the main sponsor of the centre, with the federal Government providing $29.1 million for the seven-year venture.
Staff will include 24 postgraduate students and up to 12 postdoctoral fellows who specialise in nutrition, environment and animal health.
Australians ate an average 34.6kg of chicken meat last year. In September quarter 2001, 97.1 million chickens were slaughtered.
Last year's export of poultry meat (98 per cent chicken) is predicted to have reached 19.5kilotonnes.
Meat chickens do not live in battery cages but are housed in large barns. Average supermarket bird lives 42-49 days before processing.