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AGRICULTURE REPORT – June 11, 2002: Featherless Chickens - 2002-06-10

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Humans have long wanted to change animals to meet their needs. Now, an Israeli scientist is developing chickens without the feathers that cover a bird’s body.

The new chickens have red skins. They look unusual. Yet the scientist says they have less fat and may grow faster than other chickens. He adds that the lack of feathers will keep the birds cool in the Middle East and other warm climates.

Avigdor Cahaner (AH-vig-dor cah-HA-ner) is a genetic scientist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He also is a vice president of the World Poultry Science Association, an industry trade group. Mister Cahaner hopes to create what he believes the world needs -- a meaty, low-fat chicken.

Other scientists have developed chickens that gain weight quickly. These large birds are called broiler chickens. Mister Cahaner notes that broiler chickens must eat a lot of food in order to grow quickly. This means they also produce a lot of body heat. The birds will die if their body temperatures rise too high.

In warm climates, farmers who raise chickens often are required to use air-cooling systems in buildings where the birds live. Mister Cahaner says poor farmers in developing countries often do not have the money needed for the cooling equipment.

The Israeli scientist has already produced a number of chickens without feathers. He started with a natural version of a featherless chicken discovered fifty years ago. He has been mating these birds with normal chickens.

Mister Cahaner says the new chickens will save money in processing costs because they do not need to have their feathers removed. He notes that feather removal requires the use of large amounts of water and electric power. He says the birds are better for the environment because they produce less waste in the form of feathers. He also says the chicken meat is more nutritious.

Animal rights activists have criticized his experiments. The activists say chickens without feathers suffer more than other birds. They say feathers help protect chickens from harmful organisms and sunburn.

Mister Cahaner says his featherless birds are not designed for cooler climates. Currently, his birds are smaller than other chickens. He hopes that additional experiments will help increase their size.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.