Organic Poultry Production in India

Consumers there are starting to demand food reform, and researchers shared what they are learning as one of the world’s largest countries explores organic farming

Organic Poultry Production in India

By T. Sasidhar, K. Mani, R. Amutha, K. Rajendran and T. Vasanthakumar

Department of Poultry Science, Veterinary College and Research Institute, Tamilnadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Namakkal

In India, like much of the rest of the world, during the last four decades, the poultry and dairy industry have transformed from backyard farming to a commercial, organized, scientific and vibrant industry, but the issues of food safety and quality remain unaddressed.

Poultry and dairy sectors play a significant role in improving the socio economic condition of the rural population. Day by day, the consumers are becoming more aware about safety and quality of their food products. As the purchasing power of common people increases, they are interested in consuming safer products without bothering to pay more. Hence, the priority now is to lay more emphasis on organic farming in order to produce safer animal products without compromising on the animal welfare issues.


In 2005, poultry accounts for about 75 percent of the total organic meat market and consists of nearly 26,000 tons of organic poultry, which is dominated by chicken. Chicken has become the most important organic meat due to its short production cycle, which permits producers to quickly increase supply. Organic poultry meat production has comparatively lower cost of production than other livestock meat.

The demand for research and development efforts in the poultry sector is also going up as the world trade in organic poultry products is increasing. Currently, 130 countries are producing certified organic products. Some developing countries like Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, are now exporting organic animal products to the developed countries. Our country has a vast scope for promotion of organic farming in the export market, without compromising national food security, as farming by tribes and under rain-fed conditions is generally organic oriented, since very little chemicals are used.


The main issues that push producers and consumers to enter into organic are chemical residues in the meat and egg and poultry welfare.


The environmental science journal Down to Earth, in its 1-15 August, 2014, issue, has highlighted the problem by analyzing the antibiotic content in the chicken meat obtained from various markets in its labs, and the results are alarming. Typical antibiotics found in the chicken liver, muscles and kidney are the tetracyclines (such as doxycycline), fluoroquinolones (such as enrofloxacin) and aminoglycosides (such as neomycin).

Why are these dangerous? Repeated and prolonged exposure will lead to the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria. And these resistant strains will be passed on to the humans who consume them. Even the un-mutated bacteria in the meat can directly unleash an assault on the microbes in our guts.

And note too that the antibiotics used in poultry are the same as the ones used for humans.

What about the inedible parts of the chicken that we throw away or bury in the ground? Resistant strains from the feather, bone and such are now transferred to soil, ground water, ponds and streams. In effect, as Down to Earth points out, as a microbe becomes resistant, it influences other microbes present in the gut of the chicken and then those in the environment, making them resistant to a wide range of antibiotics.


The aims of moving to a more organic poultry production system in India would be:

• To produce food of high quality in sufficient quantity;

• To interact in a constructive and life-enhancing way with natural systems and cycles;

• To consider the wider social and ecological impact of the organic production processing system;

• To encourage and enhance biological cycles within the farming system involving micro-organisms, soil flora, plants and animals;

• To maintain and increase the long term fertility of soil;

• To maintain the genetic diversity of the production system and its surroundings, including the protection of plant and wildlife habitats;

• To use as far as possible renewable resources in locally organized production systems;

• To create a harmonious balance between crop production and animal husbandry; and

• To minimize all forms of pollution.


Challenges to moving India’s poultry industry to organic include:

• Organic poultry products are costlier;

• Poor people cannot afford these costlier products;

• No quick accessibility for the consumers;

• Certification problem;

• Difficult to spare more housing space;

• Conversion period for conventional system to organic practices is very long; and

• Prolonged withdrawal period of six weeks if treated with any antibiotics or other drugs.


In free-range systems with large flocks, including organic farming systems, too many cases have been observed in which hens have started to perform feather pecking that lead to a high rate of cannibalism and a 20 percent mortality rate per year.

An experiment is to be incorporated in breeding programs to eliminate these behavioral traits to make sound and acceptable welfare systems.


In Sikkim, more than 70 percent of people have an agricultural background and 80 percent of these people keep livestock of different species as a supplementary source of income. Sikkim is the first state in India converted into a fully organic state. About 75,000 hectares (about 185,329 acres) of agricultural land was converted into organic land and certified by APEDA, the government agency responsible for food management.

The state shifted its focus toward organic agriculture, where the role of livestock and poultry sector shall be of paramount importance particularly to supply the organic manure. The enormous demand for poultry in the state is due to an increased flow of tourists every year. A wide gap exists between demand and supply of poultry products. To meet the demand, the majority of the poultry was imported from neighboring state of West Bengal.

Farmers of Sikkim realized they could improve their chicken production and increase their earnings. Some improved breeds of backyard chickens were proposed to start poultry farming in rural areas. They combined all the good traits of the various strains, that is, can lay for a long time (more than 12 months) and with characteristics of disease resistance, high-growth rate and starting to lay eggs earlier as compare to local Desi chickens.

As recommended by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Sikkim’s region introduced two high yielding backyard poultry breeds: the Vanaraja and Gramapriya.


Some serious problems are still restricting growth in organic farming. Some of these potential obstacles, especially when exporting livestock products, are as follows:

• Lack of knowledge;

• Small farms;

• Problems in livestock feeding;

• Sanitary regulations;

• Traceability;

• Disease; and

• Lack of training and certification facilities.


What the organic food movement in India must work on going forward:

• Convert conventional agricultural land into organic land;

• Ban of antibiotic growth promoters;

• Provide financial credit to the farmers;

• Earn subsidies from government;

• Augment integration systems;

• Train farmers and create awareness among people;

• Aid veterinary services

• Provide market facilities.


The rural and backyard poultry production in India is not yet considered organic because organic principles are not regulated and certified, even the backyard poultry production somehow related to the organic principles and practices.

The organic standards have to be set, followed, certified and marketed as organic, which fetch more income to the farmers. But the fast-growing poultry industry cannot afford this slow production and business loss. For this, strict legislations have to set to ban antibiotics and other synthetic products usage, so food safety can be assured.

Second, the poultry welfare issues are also unavoidable in organic poultry production, but more sophistically and comfortably the birds are reared in cages and environmentally controlled houses with biosecurity, so this ensures poultry welfare.

What we need more than this. Poultry welfare, food safety, and quality issues will be vanished in upcoming days. But if we convert agriculture and animal husbandry into organic, the bond will increase and eco-friendly farming will root in India.


FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission definition of organic as:

“A unique production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity and this is accomplished by using on-farm agronomic, biological and mechanical methods in exclusion of all synthetic off-farm inputs.” Organic guidelines are more stringent than free-range, and include:

• The choice of breeds or strains should favor stock that is well adapted to the local conditions and to the husbandry system. Preference should be given to indigenous species.

• The need for grains in the finishing phase of meat poultry.

• The need for roughage, fresh or dried fodder or silage in the daily ration of poultry.

• Poultry must be reared in open-range conditions and have free access to an open-air run whenever the weather conditions permit. The keeping of poultry in cages is not permitted.

• In the case of laying hens, when natural day length is prolonged by artificial light, the competent authority shall prescribe maximum hours respective to species, geographical considerations and general health of the animal; and

• For health reasons, buildings should be emptied between each batch of poultry reared and runs left empty to allow the vegetation to grow back.


• Feed of plant origin from non-organic sources can only be used under specified conditions and if they are produced or prepared without the use of chemical solvents or chemical treatment.

• Feed of mineral origin, trace elements, vitamins or pro-vitamins can only be used if they are of natural origin. In case of a shortage of these substances, chemically well-defined analogic substances can be used.

• Feed of animal origin, with exception of milk and milk products, fish. Other marine animals and products derived therefrom, should generally not be used, or as provided by national legislation.

• Synthetic nitrogen or non-protein nitrogenous compounds shall not be used.


• Binders, anti-caking agents, emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, surfactants, and coagulants. Only natural sources are allowed.

• Antioxidants: only natural sources are allowed.

• Preservatives: only natural acids are allowed.

• Coloring agents (including pigments), flavors and appetite stimulants: only natural sources are allowed.

• Probiotic, enzymes and microorganisms are allowed.


According to the research done by authors of this story, here are the overall health benefits they discovered:

• Organic foods are both safer and nutritious than conventional foods

• Deep yellow-orange yolks

• No salmonella issues

• No meat spot/ blood spots

• Twice as much omega-3 fatty acids

• Three times more vitamin E

• Six times more vitamin D

• More B vitamins

• Seven times more pro-vitamin A beta-carotene

• Rich in lutein and zeaxanthin

• A quarter less saturated fat

• A third less cholesterol

• Maximum flavor

• Leaner

• Shorter shelf life

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