Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Be Aware of the Chicken You Eat! Part 2: Malpractices.

Agriculture in Zambia issue 7: Greed and/or ignorance by suppliers of inputs, broiler producers, distributors and consumers alike account for the bulk of malpractices in the broiler industry; a situation aggravated by excessively lenient legislation or regulation and non-compliance with whatever regulation there might be.

The common commercial broiler at 6 weeks.

The first issue of this series of three posts on broiler chickens outlined some dangers and drawbacks of eating broiler chickens. This posts lists malpractices of input suppliers, growers and consumers. The final posts is about remedial action resulting in responsible behaviour of all players in the broiler business.

Input suppliers mostly are companies offering packages of growth enhancers and vitamins, pharmaceuticals and medication, and stock feed. Input suppliers, directly or indirectly, also are farmers growing the grains for feed and the soya bean for protein; producers of fish (meal), bone meal and salt; and any other ingredient that may be part of the composition of stock feed for broilers.

Typical malpractices of input suppliers are/might be:
  1. Inclusion of growth hormones and antibiotics in “growth enhancer” packages or in feed.
  2. Production of “growth enhancer” packages without specified content. This might be done in countries with lack of legislation as regards permitted enhancers and hence contain harmful materials.
  3. Lack of specification of content of stock feed, including of the “additives.” Quality control of animal stock feed should be as good as that of food for human consumption – after all we are at the end of the food chain.
  4. Lack of information to the grower about the period of time that each feed maximally or minimally should be given.
  5. Careless sale by agro shops in cases when customers (farmers) should be properly informed about usage of the materials purchased.
  6. Sale of materials in agro shops that should not be sold at all; opportunistic use of lack of regulation and implementation as regards hazardous feed supplements.

The Zambian broiler farmer roughly can be divided into three types:
  1. The backyard chicken farmer. This farmer keeps chickens as a source of extra income, numbers ranging from 100 to a few hundred, kept in one or a few runs in the garden. The neighbourhood (individuals and usually small businesses) is the market, the outlet is at home.
  2. The smallholder farmer having a number of runs continuously producing chickens in numbers ranging of a few hundred to a few thousand monthly. The smallholder depends mostly on a market composed of retailers (marketers, groceries, supermarkets) and larger consumers such as hotels, restaurants, snack bars and guesthouses. The small holder usually has packaging facilities and deep freezers for storage. Some smallholders make their own feed, by growing most of the ingredients and purchasing the supplements.
  3. The industrial or large scale producer producing up to ten thousands of packaged chickens for retailers, retail chains and other customers buying in bulk. An industrial producer such as Zambeef also produces feed for the small scale and backyard farmer and retails frozen chickens in its own shops.

Zambia may have a few thousand backyard chicken farmers and these supply a considerable part of the local market. This farmer offers usually a competitive price  by being both producer and retailer, non-payment of turnover tax or VAT and low labour costs. They often have poor understanding of technical management. Small holders, unlike the backyard grower, are genuine farmers; and like the industrial producers, usually know what they are doing and why they do what they do. The bottom line is production for profit, and that may be by farming methods that may be unfriendly for both chicken and consumer.

Typical malpractices of growers are:
  1. Over dosage of “growth enhancers” by providing these when already added to the feed by the stock feed company.
  2. Usage of harmful growth enhancers such as growth hormones and “pre-therapeutic” antibiotics.
  3. Excessive usage of “stress pack,” i.e., vitamin packages. Only excess vitamins B and C leave the body in urine, the others are stored.
  4. Non-observance of the withdrawal period before slaughter following treatment with antibiotics.
  5. Skipping of the “finisher phase” in rearing chickens that are slaughtered when 3 to 4.5 weeks (the typical supermarket chicken), resulting in chickens possibly containing undesirable “growth enhancers.”
  6. Resorting to inferior feed. Feed is by far the main cost in raising chicks and very expensive.
  7. Keeping birds in poor conditions (overcrowded, unhygienic, lack of ventilation, wrong temperature) resulting in need for medication, high mortality rate and the slaughter of unhealthy birds.
  8. Unsuited housing affecting temperature, ventilation, hygiene and pest control (mosquitoes, flies, rats and mice).
  9. Non-observance of cleaning, disinfecting and resting procedures prior to re-usage of the chicken house.
  10. Poor slaughtering.
  11. No rapid cooling of the carcass after slaughter, cleaning and packaging.
  12. No proper storage: insufficient capacity of deep freezers, wrong packing inside the freezers resulting in (too) slow decrease of temperature.
  13. Lack of interest in and understanding of proper technical management. This may apply especially to the backyard farmer.
  14. Unwillingness to invest in proper infrastructure: the farmer wants to make money without making the necessary investments.
  15. Cash flow problems inhibiting the timely purchase of feed. The capital layout until point of sale of broiler chickens is considerable (about ¾ of the sales price). Cash flow problems are common and result in premature sales, wrong feeding, and other undesirable “short cuts.”
  16. Poor and/or irresponsible waste disposal. Chicken litter is a desirable fertiliser but slaughter waist is not and must be disposed of responsibly.

Almost all Zambian love eating chicken. Most of the chickens consumed are broilers, especially in municipal and urban areas.

Typical malpractices of the consumer are:
  1. Buy cheaply without consideration for quality.
  2. Ignorance about the product and its production.
  3. Ignorance of and lack of interest in the ecology of the chicken business.

The next and last issue on broilers is about Remedial Action addressing malpractices in the industry. 

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