N.C. A&T faculty part of $10 million poultry research project

08/06/2020 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (August 6, 2020) – A multi-university team that includes two faculty members from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has won a five-year, $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to research the sustainability of antibiotic-restricted poultry production.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded the grant through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the nation’s leading competitive grants program for the agricultural sciences.

“This is a rare scenario. These grants are very hard to get,” said Chyi Lyi (Kathleen) Liang, Ph.D., an agricultural economics professor and co-director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems who will be involved for the duration of the grant. “People have been discussing this topic for a long time. It’s a much-needed study, and I’m very pleased that we were funded.”

The N.C. A&T faculty members’ portion of the grant is around $760,000, according to Liang.

Liang and Yewande Fasina, Ph.D., both faculty members in A&T’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, will bring their expertise to a team comprised of researchers from 14 different universities who will examine the issue of antibiotic use in the poultry industry from all angles: the chickens, the humans who consume them, and the environmental impacts.

Other institutions participating in the grant include North Carolina State University, the University of Georgia, the University of Maryland and Prairie View A&M University. The team was assembled by the grant’s principal investigator, Kumar Venkitanarayanan, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of research at the University of Connecticut.

The results could yield the blueprint for an overhaul of the entire industry’s approach to disease management, said Liang.

“The industry is very interested in moving away from antibiotic use, partly because of the associated expense and partly because it’s what consumers want,” Liang said. “This study uses an integrated-systems approach to identify how each agent - the humans, chickens and environment - are affected by different strategies to tackle the antibiotic issues linking production to consumption and environmental concerns.”

Fasina, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, will test the efficacy of green tea extract, a natural immune system enhancer, as an alternative to antibiotics for the control of necrotic enteritis, a gut disease in broiler (meat-type) chickens. As a poultry immuno-nutritionist, she will work to culture the main causes of the disease in the lab, and then experimentally induce the illness in birds given diets supplemented with green tea extract.

“No one has ever tested green tea extract’s potential against necrotic enteritis, a disease that has cost the industry billions worldwide,” Fasina said. “We have preliminary data showing that green tea extract has potential, but this must be validated with live bird trials, especially since necrotic enteritis is a complex disease.”

As an agricultural economist, Liang will be involved throughout the project in assessing the economic impacts of the proposed interventions. Using a cost-benefit analysis, she will turn the data generated by the lab scientists into a comprehensive assessment of the costs required, revenue impacts and profitability of the proposed strategies, and identify the factors that influence producers’ willingness to adopt those strategies.

“Growers make decisions on how to raise birds. Suppliers make decisions on how to move them to market. Consumers decide what to buy. I figure out the way that all these decisions work together economically,” she said.

Producers will not have to wait until the grant’s end for results they can use; the results will be disseminated as they become available, Fasina said.

That’s good news for an industry that has long been criticized for its antibiotic use, Liang said.

“These research outcomes will be applicable to producers anywhere, from urban to rural to suburban,” Liang said. “We’ll have alternative ideas for creating sustainable ways to raise healthy poultry.”

Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu