MINNEAPOLIS – The growing number of food companies committed to sourcing poultry free from antibiotics has fueled research into alternative methods of maintaining the health of birds raised for food.

In April 2015, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. announced the company’s commitment to eliminating antibiotics from 25 percent of its poultry production by the end of 2018. To support this transition, the poultry processor made investments in probiotics to improve gut health in chickens in addition to enhancing biosecurity measures to protect the birds.

Cargill took a different approach using essential oils. Cargill researchers found that essential oils can work as an alternative to antibiotics as growth promoters. Since 2009, the company’s animal nutrition unit has conducted 77 comprehensivein vitroandin vivotrials on non-medicated feed additives including essential oils, probiotics, yeast derivatives and medium chain fatty acids (MCFA).

Cargill found that selected essential oil compounds, particularly those derived from thyme, cinnamon and oregano, had the most comprehensive effect on overall gut health, although all additives Cargill studied showed some benefit. Researchers also found essential oils to be effective in conditions where intestinalSalmonellosisandCoccidiosiswere present.

“Promoting gut health while reducing AGPs is critical for sustainable animal performance and profitability,” said Twan Van Gerwe, poultry R&D director in Cargill’s animal nutrition business. “Our R&D work in improving poultry gut health is an important part of Cargill’s commitment to nourishing the world's population.”