Even two decades ago, Bangladeshi people could not afford meat in their diets once a week, let alone in their daily meals. In the late 90s, when commercial production of poultry boomed, people could gradually start eating poultry meat and fill the protein need in their diets.
Meat was no longer a luxury as even in villages, people would not have to slaughter their household hen for an unexpected guest, and instead they could easily get one from the bazaar at an affordable price.
The poultry industry, with its record growth in the last ten years, is very near to meeting the annual meat consumption requirement in Bangladesh.
According to a report by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2018, against the need of 2.40 million metric tonnes (MMT) of broiler meat, the 400 existing mills in Bangladesh are commercially producing 2.14 MMT annually.
USDA predicts, within 2024, with the exponential growth rate of poultry production, Bangladesh would be able to commercially export broiler meat.
To ensure healthy meat consumption, farmers use antibiotics in poultry feed to prevent diseases in chickens. However, when they also discovered that antibiotics could be used to fatten chicken faster, the situation went out of hand as farmers could access unregulated antibiotics.
The problem intensified and posed serious threats to human health as the poultry farmers made these chickens available in the markets just the day after they fed them antibiotics, whereas the rule is to give the chickens a 7 to 8 day withdrawal period when it would be safe for human consumption.
Numerous reports on antibiotic abuse in broiler production began to concern people. Household consumption of chicken took a toll and multinational food chains received heat from consumers for serving low-quality meat.
However, what terrified people most was the information of gross spectrum antibiotics being used in poultry feeds – making people who consume them resistant to few other antibiotics.
According to Fish Feed and Animal Feed Act 2010, farmers are not to use antibiotics, growth hormones or chemicals that interfere with poultry production.
Yet, unauthorised and unofficial use of antibiotics in broiler chickens is still going on, and chicken meat consumers are still exposed to health hazards posed by antibiotic resistance.
With the pressing issue at hand, Sher-E-Bangla Agricultural University (SAU) has initiated research projects since 2017 with the aim to finding alternatives to antibiotic use in poultry.
In the last two years, professors and lecturers from the department of poultry science at SAU have experimented with neem, chlorella, spirulina, and very recently, moringa, as alternatives to antibiotic in poultry feed. To say the very least, the results of experiments are promising.
While experimenting with neem leaf as an alternative to antibiotic in poultry feed, they focused on growth performances and health statuses in broiler chicken.
They randomly chose 180 one-day-old chicks and fed them a neem leaf meal for four weeks. The chicks were divided in six treatment groups, four of the groups were fed with different dosages of neem leaf while one group was supplied with antibiotics and the other one was provided with neither neem nor antibiotics.
The results from these groups highly demonstrated a positive influence on weight gain in the groups fed with neem. Most importantly, the result of neem as an alternative to antibiotic came out positive, proving that this organic herb can replace antibiotics in growing healthy broiler chickens.
The latter experiment led by this department involved 240 one-day-old chicks divided into four groups who were fed with dried chlorella powder. The research was focused on observing growth performance, microbial, biochemical and haematological changes on chicks as they were given a dietary supplement with dried chlorella powder.
The study on chlorella came out particularly positive as a growth supplement as well as a replacement for antibiotics without causing any antibiotic resistance in humans.
These are published researches by the department of poultry science at SAU. Under the supervision of Chairperson Md Anwarul Haq Beg, corresponding author Md Zahir Uddin Rubel and faculty members Md Aftabuzzaman, Md Toufik Ahmed Nahid, Maksuda Begum and Noushin Anjum played key roles in conducting the researches.
Following success with neem and chlorella, a study with spirulina powder bore similar results. Moreover, the most recent study that the department has conducted used moringa powder as meal for chicks. Moringa leaf powder is well known for its antimicrobial components that are highly effective in resisting harmful bacteria growth both in animals and in humans.
Although the result is yet to be published, Lecturer Rubel said, "Moringa has proved to be highly effective in chicks, and from the results so far, we found that using moringa powder was more effective than antibiotics."
As the poultry business in Bangladesh is ever-expanding, now would be the best time to put these gifts of nature into use for producing safe poultry meat for human consumption.
Among the four herbs, neem and moringa are native to Bangladesh and easily producible for commercial use. If the poultry sector can import chlorella and spirulina at cheaper rates, these two herbs can work wonders for generating healthier poultry meat.