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Chilli-eating chickens repel bacteria

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  • Chilli-eating chickens repel bacteria

    18:23 20 August 01

    Chilli might one day be added to chickens while they are still alive, according to researchers in the US. A recent report found that half of all chickens sold in the UK were contaminated with food poisoning bacteria, so this natural approach to reducing bugs is attractive.

    In an effort to fight the notorious food-poisoning bacterium Salmonella, Audrey McElroy of Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, fed chickens with capsaicin, the chemical that gives chilli its bite.

    The birds were then dosed with Salmonella enteritidis. The hot food reduced the number of birds with the germs in their internal organs by almost half compared to a normally-fed group.

    Fortunately for those averse to spicy food, a taste panel found that the chilli flavour did not end up in the meat.

    Taste deterrent

    Research reported in July 2001 suggests that the chilli's fiery taste deters creatures who are poor at dispersing the plant's seeds. Fortunately for the poultry industry, this does not include birds. "Birds appear not to have the receptors to the hot pungent part of the peppers", says McElroy. "It appears not to affect them in any way."

    The chickens did get inflamed intestines, however, and this is the main clue to how the spice might be working.

    "Is it causing just a mild influx of immune cells that allows the bird to fight off the infection, or does it change the binding sites so the Salmonella passes through the birds?", wonders McElroy.

    Antibiotic alternative

    There is evidence that feeding antibiotics to poultry leads to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The practice is still the norm in Britain and the US, but McElroy believes that her findings could be more important in the future because of the push to get rid of antibiotics in poultry.

    But Richard Young of the UK Soil Association, which promotes organic farming, urges caution. He says killing off one set of bugs could make way for another.

    "One would want to be convinced that in using a product like this to reduce Salmonella they're not simply leaving the way open for other food poisoning bacteria," he told New Scientist.

    Andrea Graves
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