Can Chickens Harm Your Health?

The price of fertilizer continues to go up.  The poultry industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing agro-based industries in the world.  As a result of these two trends, chicken manure is increasingly being used to fertilize croplands.  In Spain, 84 percent of the poultry litter generated is used in agriculture as a source of soil enrichment and nutrients.

The problem is that the litter may be contaminated with natural hormones such as estrone, estradiol, estriol and testosterone; as well as synthetic hormones such as those used for contraception.  These chemicals can harm native fauna and get into the food chain, where they may interfere with hormone production systems in humans.  Currently, livestock is regarded as the second-greatest polluter of hormones in the environment (after humans).

Testing for hormones in poultry litter has been difficult; the complex structure of biosolids can produce interference while providing low detection limits.  Scientists in Spain have developed a new method for measuring 13 natural and synthetic hormones in poultry litter, combining QuEChERS extraction with GC/MS analysis.  An Agilent 7890A gas chromatograph and an Agilent 7000 triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer were used.

The method was validated with sewage sludge, manure and broiler litter (combined waste from poultry farms).  The most abundant hormones found in manure were estrone and estradiol, while estrone and androstene were dominant in the litter.  Overall, the presence of seven hormones was detected.

This new method has been shown to be highly sensitive, selective and rapid.  The scientists believe it could be deployed to check the safety of poultry litter before it is spread on the land, avoiding the release of unacceptable quantities of steroid hormones into the environment.

This information is for research purposes only.  It is not intended for any use in diagnostic procedures.


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