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October-December 2017 Issue (Vol. 19 No. 4)

by Victoriano B. Guiam

Commercial poultry feed and the raising of organic poultry do not mix.

Republic Act 10068, better known as the Philippine Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, disallows the use of synthetic inputs in the practice of organic agriculture as these may pose harm to consumers, the environment and the farmers themselves. Most of the poultry feed formulations found in the market do not comply with the Act as these have, as one of their contents, the synthetic form of the essential amino acid, methionine, making them incompatible with organic poultry production, more so for native chicken breeds.

Methionine in the poultry diet

All amino acids are vital to animal health. However, some cannot be produced by them and must therefore be obtained from the diet. These amino acids are technically referred to as essential amino acids. For poultry, methionine is one of these.

Methionine is a sulfurcontaining amino acid that is essential for maintaining the viability of poultry to remain productive. It is vital for different bodily functions. A deficiency generally leads to poor feed conversion, retarded growth in meat birds, and reduced egg production in layers and breeders. This can also be seen in the curling of toes. Methionine, along with another sulfur-containing amino acid but non-essential amino acid, cysteine, is critical to feather formation as it is a major component of feathers. According to Jacob (2013), the lack of methionine in the diet results to bare spots, poor feather growth and increased feather pecking in the attempt to obtain enough of this vital ingredient. An increase in feather pecking in a flock can lead to cannibalism, agitation, and other behavioral issues which can lead to high mortality rates.

In “Synthetic Methionine and Organic Poultry Diets” by Dr. Jacquie Jacob, it was cited that the use of synthetic amino acids in poultry diets is highly controversial in organic agriculture. The basic commercial poultry ration, which can be a simple corn-soybean blend, does not contain enough methionine. As it cannot be biologically produced by poultry, synthetic methionine (a colorless or white crystalline powder that is soluble in water) is generally added to commercial poultry feed. In the U.S., its inclusion is temporarily allowed in organic poultry diets pending the discovery of a natural substitute and is strictly limited to specified levels.

The hunt for effective natural sources of methionine

The increasing demand for organic agriculture (OA) products, locally and even regionally, puts growing pressure on producers to deliver. As compliance with Philippine OA standards and requirements is a must for bonafide OA producers, the search is on for suitable natural ingredients that can supply the methionine in the kind and amounts needed by poultry that are within the economic and technical reach of growers.

In the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City, researchers led by Dr. Jaime C. Cabarles, Jr., Dean of the university’s College of Agriculture, Resources and Environmental Sciences (CARES) embarked on a project, “Development of Natural Source as Alternative to Synthetic Methionine for Native Chicken Organic Supplemental Feed Production,” that started in 2015 with funding support from the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR). The goal is to develop natural sources of methionine and other essential amino acids for native chicken organic supplemental feeds. While it focuses on native chicken, good project results can help the rest of the organic chicken industry meet the standards set by RA 10068

In an interview of Dr. Cabarles, he said that there is hardly any feed available that can be called organic. The local poultry feed industry relies heavily on synthetic methionine needs. According to statistics from Dr. Cabarles’ study, the level of its importation has been growing. In 2005, it was already at six million kg and by 2011, it had reached 10.7 million kg. The value of the latest figure available (2013) is Php 2.04B. It is thus easy to see that finding a good substitute for synthetic methionine makes economic sense. Efforts along this line shall lead to poultry feed that is organic in the true sense of the word and which will be available in the quantity needed by organic chicken growers.

In his study, Dr. Cabarles noted that research for natural sources of methionine have been carried out abroad. These include the use of herbals but the outcomes have been deemed as ineffective. The use of probiotics and microorganisms looks promising as some researches along this line have shown favorable results.

According to Dr. Cabarles, another path tried out to providing poultry with the needed proteins and amino acids was increase of the protein level in feeds. However, this has led to unfavorable externalities of environmental pollution and poses greater risk of the proliferation of pathogenic microorganisms with the increase in uric acid and ammonia produced by poultry farms.

Free range rearing of chicken, particularly for the native kind, does not have the problem of synthetic methionine in feed as the birds can get their requirement from eating a variety of food from their environment that can include insects, worms and greens. However, as pointed out by Dr. Cabarles, once the organic poultry grower decides to go commercial scale with the rising demand for naturally-grown chicken, he may not have the natural resources needed for a more intense level of production.

With hindsight obtained from the experiences of earlier researchers, Dr. Cabarles and company undertook the formulation, testing and production of natural sources of methionine and other essential amino acids for the organic production of native chicken. They have worked with leguminous crops such as malunggay and ipilipil; field grains such as cowpea, mungbean, and pigeon pea; corn and corn bran; sweet potato, fruit puree, whole yeast; whole eggs, dried fish amino acid, and biotech products, among others, in various combinations. The results so far have been impressive as the amino acids of their formulation were found to be comparable with those of commercial feeds.

The initial hurdles of the project have been overcome. In the interview of Dr. Cabarles, he expressed optimism that that they will be able to come up with good recommendations once studies comparing their formulation with commercial feeds are completed.

References: Jacob, J. (2013). Synthetic Methionine and Organic Poultry Diets. Retrieved October 24, 2017 from http://articles.

Contact details: Dr. Jaime C. Cabarles, Jr. Dean, College of Agriculture, Resources and Environmental Sciences, Central Philippine University, Iloilo City phone: (033) 329-1971 to 79 loc. 1096 email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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