Non-GMO way of boosting omega-3 intake doesn’t put strain on fish stocks
Waitrose in the UK is set to sell fresh chicken which contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The chickens get the boost in omega-3 content by being fed algae.
Omega-3 oils are available in oily fish, but wild fish stocks are depleted and there are concerns about contaminants like mercury and dioxins.
Another way to raise omega-3 intake is switching to organic milk.
Such sources of omega-3 oils avoid the risks of the new GM omega-3 crops. Oils similar to those engineered into the crops were found to cause deformities in butterflies in a study published this year.
Declining nutritional value of chicken
Standard chicken is far lower in omega-3 fatty acids than it used to be. A 100g portion of chicken in 2004 contained just 25mg of DHA – a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid known to be good for the heart – compared to a much higher level of 170mg in 1980.
At the same time, levels of linoleic acid - an omega-6 fatty acid, essential for brain development and other important functions but having a 'pro-inflammatory' effect opposite to that of the omega-3s – had risen to 6,290mg per 100g portion compared to 2,400mg in 1980, some 2.6 times the amount.
For the fussy eaters, an omega 3 chicken that is as nutritious as oily fish: Waitrose to launch fresh bird after innovation in the way they are fed
By Sean Poulter, Consumer Affairs Editor
Daily Mail, 14 June 2016
* Waitrose is set to sell fresh chicken which contains vital Omega 3
* It is normally found in oily fish and will go on sale on Wednesday
* Until now, the best way to consume Omega was in fish, such as sardines
Fresh chicken containing vital Omega 3, which is normally found in fish, is to go on sale on Wednesday at Waitrose in a nutrition revolution.
The nutrient is key to a healthy heart and is also thought to be good for the eyesight and brain development.
Until now, the best way to consume Omega 3 was to eat oily fish like sardines, kippers, fresh salmon or tuna.
Many people, particularly parents, also resort to expensive supplements like cod liver oil.
However, the Omega 3 chicken, which is a first for the British high street, will provide the same benefits.
The innovation results from feeding algae, from the family of aquatic plants that includes kelp and seaweed, to the chicken.
The algae is naturally high in Omega 3 yet it does not taint the taste of the chicken in any way.
Currently, the nation is not eating enough oily fish, not least because children do not like the taste and so do not develop the habit.
Getting the supplement from chicken, which is the UK's most popular meat, as part of a normal diet could provide enormous health advantages.
Professor Patrick Wall, Professor of Public Health at University College Dublin, said: 'This is actually going to revolutionise nutrition.
'The idea that you can make an everyday product healthier suggests you could have a huge impact on health.'
Initial trials found a 12 per cent increase in blood omega 3 levels, and measurable effects on cardiovascular health, after people ate the chicken for just five weeks.
The tests were carried out on 30 healthy participants whose omega 3 levels were measured after one, three and five weeks of eating three servings of the chicken per week.
The innovation is the result of a ten-year development programme and partnership between Waitrose, its chicken suppliers, Moy Park, and animal nutrition specialists Devenish Nutrition.
The chickens are reared on farms in Northern Ireland, which are not free range, but operate to Waitrose's welfare standards. These include plenty of natural light and more space than the industry standards, so allowing the birds to display natural behaviour.
Professor Chris Elliott, pro vice chancellor of the faculty of medicine, health and life sciences at Queen's University Belfast, said: 'It is costing £10billion a year to deal with problems of heart disease in the UK.
'Having a source of omega 3 in our diet has the potential for healthier hearts.'
Consumers can already buy eggs with raised levels of omega 3, which also come from chicken given algae in their feed.
But this is the first time, people will be able to buy chicken meat containing raised levels of the nutrient.
The chicken is generally, but not always, more expensive than budget ranges, such as 'essentials' from Waitrose. It is cheaper than free range or organic.
The new Omega chicken range of ten products will go on sale tomorrow (wed).
Waitrose is charging £3.59 a kilo for its whole Omega chickens, which means a medium bird weighing 1.65kg would cost £5.92.
This compares to £6.60 for a brined standard chicken, although Waitrose is currently running an offer that brings the price down to £4.95.
A free range chicken of the same size would be £9.82 and a chicken that is both free range and organic would be £11.53.
Waitrose will also be selling the chicken in breast fillet packs, mini fillets, drumsticks, thighs, legs and wings.
A 500g pack of its essential chicken breast fillets comes in at £6.65, which is £13.30 per kilo. Omega chicken breast fillets are £15.49 a kilo, which would be £7.75 for the same weight.
A pack of free range chicken fillets of about the same weight would cost £8.15.
Official dietary advice is that people should eat at least one portion of oily fish a week. However, research suggests that less than one in four adults meet this target and the figure is lower for children and teenagers.
Research undertaken in 2013 showed that people with the highest levels of omega 3 had a 40 per cent reduction in cardiovascular related deaths compared to people with the lowest levels.
Optimum health benefits are obtained from a daily intake of 250mg of omega 3 fatty acids as part of a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle.
This equates to eating 197g of the Omega 3 chicken meat, 137g of chicken wings, 139g of thighs or 223g of drumsticks.
Waitrose said: 'The project, which has taken a decade to bring to market, came about as a result of concerns within the medical community that consumers were not including enough sources of omega 3 in their diets.
'This is of particular concern in children, who often do not like oily fish.
'To help improve intake, the idea was conceived of developing a more popular protein containing a source of omega 3. Chicken is Waitrose's top selling protein.'
Waitrose said the source and make-up of the algae used in the feed is being kept secret for commercial reasons.
The group's Agricultural Director, Heather Jenkins, said: 'Our research is showing that this nutritional breakthrough has the potential to have a significant impact on health. What's exciting is that it's improving the nutritional content of something which customers already consume frequently as part of their diets.'
Waitrose Nutritionist, Dr Joanne Lunn, said: 'This chicken will make a really useful contribution to our customers' omega 3 in take as we know it can be hard to consume enough omega 3 from other sources, especially if you are not a fan of fish.'
Justin Coleman, Moy Park Agriculture Development Manager, said: 'We are proud to be the first poultry company in the UK to produce chicken enriched with omega 3.
'Including omega 3 in the chickens' natural diet makes this already healthy food even healthier.'
BACKGROUND ON ALGAE FEED
The cultivation of algae such as Spirulina as a food source for animals and humans promises to transform farming.
This natural source of vital fatty acids, such as omega 3, vitamins and minerals form the mainstay of the diet of fish.
As such, they provided key nutrients to the human diet that are vital to heart health, the brain and eyesight.
With concerns about over-fishing and declining stocks, commercial farming of these algae is now taking off around the world.
Unlike other crops, which are seasonal, algae can be grown and harvested daily all year round.
Many people are already familiar with the microalgae Spirulina, which is cultivated primarily as a human health supplement.
It is generally accepted to be a good source of protein, vitamins, including vitamin B12, essential amino acids, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidant pigments.
Significantly, Spirulina and other forms of algae, such as Chlorella and Schizochytrium, are now being used a food supplement for farm animals, including chickens and pigs.
These hold out the hope of chicken, eggs and pork that carry natural health advantages over conventional products.
Significantly, they could also replace controversial genetically modified soya and corn or maize, which are now given to most conventionally reared farm animals.
The same amount of land for growing corn would produce 125 times more protein from Spirulina.
Supplementing the diets of chicken with feed containing Schizochytrium has been shown to increase the level of DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid, in their eggs.
Similarly, supplementation of the diets with a red microalgae called Porphyridium was shown to reduce cholesterol and increase the omega-3 content of the eggs.