Is it safe to eat chicken in Pakistan?

Published: March 12, 2016

A Pakistani worker holds a chicken in a poultry farm in Charsadda, northwest of Islamabad. PHOTO: REUTERS

Heated debates have been taking place on various forums revolving around the topic of hormones being used in chicken production. As a professional in the field of poultry, I find this assumption to be quite confusing to be honest. What has led to this sudden suspicion though? Is it because people have become more health conscious or have they suddenly realised chickens have become bigger? These beliefs stem from a lack of knowledge and inaccurate information being passed around and everyone conveniently links it to the rapid growth of broiler chickens (domesticated fowl, bred and raised specifically for meat production).

People in general feel birds cannot grow at such a fast rate without any malpractice involved, especially without the use of hormones. Some even feel various side-effects (which may not have been authenticated) occur due to this, such as increased incidences of cancer, premature onset of puberty and the growth of facial hair in women.

These issues can be addressed in a rational manner.

Why have chickens increased in size over the years?

To begin with, the rapid growth rate of chickens (5.7 lb in six weeks) is not the result of a single experimental manipulation within a span of a few months; rather it is the result of an on-going research (in terms of selection and breeding) dating back to 1925.

During that point in time, the market age of broiler chickens was 16 weeks with 2.2 lb body weight. This breeding plan of broiler chickens depicts intense selection for choosing a bird to breed the next generation. Only 10 were selected from a group of 100 keeping in mind body weight, feed conversion and vigour. If that isn’t selective, then I don’t know what is. This particular intensive selection resulted in better offspring as compared to previous offspring. This method isn’t unique to chickens – it is used for other animals as well.

This rapid growth can also be used for local aseel or desi chickens through continuous selection and breeding for desired traits but it’s time consuming and expensive as well. The good news is research regarding this method is underway at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Lahore.

Secondly, an important question to ask is why scientists opt for rapid growth? Simply because of population increase; the higher the demand for animal protein, the higher the push for larger chickens.

But this is what leads to the contentious issue of larger chickens and the hormones being injected into them. Usually people confuse the method of rapid growth and automatically jump to the conclusion of hormones being injected in the bird. How about we read up about it before assuming incorrect things?

Is injecting hormones into chickens necessary?

Moreover, the basic question that should be asked is if hormones are needed at all. The answer is no, since birds are already on the edge of their physiological limits and the added use of supplements may have disastrous effects on the bird.

Another misconception people have is the administration of hormones through feed or water. That is not practiced as such because digestion of birds starts with the action of acids and enzymes combining, which then convert into basic amino acids and naturally destroy the function of hormones.

The only possible way for hormones to work is to inject chickens on a daily basis, because the natural growth hormone in chickens is pulsatile and peaking every 90 minutes. Frequent injection of hormones is not possible in commercial poultry due to the higher number of chickens, therefore the probability of this happening on commercial farms is nil.

Lastly, hormone feeding is not cost effective since there is no commercial production of chicken hormones and even if it were to be available, administrating it to broiler chickens will cost more than the cost of broilers itself.

Therefore, it can be said rapid growth of chicken is due to genetics, nutrition, housing management and disease control. Genetic effects on growth are evident from the aforementioned reasons. It is safe to say the large size of chickens is definitely not because of injecting hormones. The ideal environment which consists of high­ quality feed and superior genetics yields a bird that does not require any growth hormones.

So can I eat chicken without worrying about side effects?

So, if you’re worried about hormones in your chicken, you shouldn’t be. What you should be worried about is the pathogenic microorganisms present in your dietary intake, for instance salmonella in the form of salmonella typhi or drug residues present in meat.

For now, eat your chicken and enjoy it!

In light of this, what would you prefer to eat?

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This blog was co-authored by;

Syed Ali Afzal

Syed Ali Afzal

The author is a M Phil Scholar in the Department of Food Science & Technology at the Dadabhoy Institute of Higher Education Karachi.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rubina

    Not a convincing write up.Recommend

  • Munawar Hussain Manais

    whats the deficiency?? please mention i ll try to cover thatRecommend

  • Munawar Hussain Manais

    i think i have mentioned it very clearly. For more details you can contact with me.Recommend

  • Munawar Hussain Manais

    What false??? please mention…Recommend

  • Munawar Hussain Manais

    there is use of hormones in cow but not in chicken, this is not possible in practical condition.Recommend

  • Munawar Hussain Manais

    Plz be realistic…

  • newschennal
  • newschennal
  • Leo

    If you compere both Desi chicken vs Farms Chicken,
    1) why both of them have not same level of activeness? Despite as per you said Farms chicken given more healthier feed.
    2) Why these Farm Chicken unable to bare their own weight?

  • Umer Idrees

    well done buddyRecommend

  • Hilaen Namon

    Very good write-up. My question is why has this trend for denouncing chicken has emerged? Who are the beneficiaries of this scam?
    Also,Today i have read reports saying broiler is similar to pork .I off course don’t believe it but still how to clarify to others?Recommend

  • Mirza Baig

    Syed sb u have not opined why farm eggs and chicken smell so bad. Please comment

  • Tauqir

    Syed SB. Plz brief about Sankhia injection or supplement food given to chicken to avoid heart attack. RegarfsRecommend

  • Nomi Khan Niazi

    dear writers what is your study about use of arsenic in poultry feed which is causing cancer disease high rate in usually poor and middle parts of our populationRecommend

  • Nomi Khan Niazi

    Samples of chicken meat collected from various spots in the city have been found to have high levels of arsenic. The city’s environment hasn’t yet recovered from the damaging effects of leaded-gasoline that was phased out in 2001 and still the major (lead) source directly or indirectly contaminating food is leaded-petrol.

    These are some important findings of a three-year research which was shared on Monday at a seminar held at the Aga Khan University (AKURecommend

  • Nomi Khan Niazi

    In comparison with potato and lentils cooked in different types of utensils, poultry chicken meat contained 15 times higher concentration of arsenic (between 41ng/g and 47ng/g),” he said, suggesting that arsenic-based chicken feed and vaccines might be the source of contamination.Recommend

  • Izhar Aziz

    hello there sir,
    my name is izhar aziz, and i am a student of Environmental sciences. i have read your post (above) and i find out it very interesting if
    best regards
    izhar azizRecommend