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Forum global sur la sécurité alimentaire et la nutrition • Forum FSN

Re: Eggs: harnessing their power for the fight against hunger and malnutrition

Saul Morris
Saul MorrisGlobal Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)United Kingdom

Great to read all of the contributions this week.

Gerhard Flachowsky reminds us that by adding specific nutrients to chicken feed (in this case, iodine), one can increase the concentration of that nutrient in the eggs that the chickens lay. The concept has become familiar to consumers in some countries where DHA-enriched eggs are available for purchase. It essentially makes the egg a fortification vehicle, comparable, for example, to vitamin D enriched milk. Vitamin A and selenium are other micronutrients that could potentially be added in this way. The challenge will be to avoid making the eggs even more unaffordable to poor consumers by increasing the input cost (feed).

Dick Tinsley directly addresses this issue of affordability, directing us to a great tool which enables policy-makers to experience the dramatic trade-offs that the world’s poorest people have to make every day. It clearly shows why families in poor countries do not currently eat many eggs. The only way that this situation will change is if eggs become cheaper. And unfortunately, there are only two ways of making them cheaper: reducing the cost of feed, or increasing the scale of production. Both have challenges.

Rabiu Auwalu Yakasai shares an interesting experience from Nigeria, and suggests that “nutritional illiteracy” is the key constraint to consumption in this environment. This is in direct contradiction of the point made by Dick Tinsley. It would be great to see evidence that a programme which only educates families about the benefits of egg consumption can actually increase consumption. The special supplement finds that even including support to production, it is quite hard—but not impossible, as shown, for example, by Marquis et al.—to increase the consumption of smallholder families.

John Cheburet emphasises the challenge of the cost of chicken feed. One has to wonder whether chickens in Africa have to consume maize and soy? It would be great to learn about alternative feed formulations which bring down the cost of egg production while meeting the nutritional needs of layer hens. It would also be good to know why Ugandan eggs are cheaper than Kenyan eggs? Do they produce at larger scale?

Cedric Charpentier raises a concern about conflict of interest. I would like to clarify that the International Egg Commission had no role at all in the production of the series, nor any of the individual papers. Cedric also correctly notes that there is very little in the series about animal welfare or potential environmental impacts; this is why we specifically asked for comments on these topics in this Forum. We would love to hear from Forum members whether there are examples of production of eggs at scale in resource-poor countries where animal welfare has been adequately considered? And what are good models for minimising environmental impact in these settings?

Rabiu Auwalu Yakasai raises an interesting point about egg powder. Would it be a good way to give poorer consumers access to the benefits of egg consumption, or is it just a capitulation to foreign trade interests? Clearly, this situation already applies for milk, where most of Africa currently consumers imported powder milk rather than fresh domestic milk. In this case, countries like Kenya are now turning this around by setting up milk ATMs supplied by local producers. Should countries just say no to imported egg powder?

Kuruppacharil V. Peter raises the case of India, where egg consumption is a politically charged issue. He points out that attitudes vary considerably from state to state. He notes frequently cited concerns about cholesterol.  Readers may like to refer to the recent meta-analysis published in bmj (Ying Rong et al. 2013) which shows that “Higher consumption of eggs (up to one egg per day) is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke”.