Birds Say No Thank You to Organic Wheat

June 11, 2010 by  
Filed under Features

Organic farming has become vital to the conservation of the environment and has been shown to have more health benefits than conventional farming that makes use of fertilizers and other aids to improve their crops. Scientists, therefore, were not testing the health benefits of organic farming when they decided to test which type of grain birds would prefer. Previous testing was done over very short periods of time, but the latest studies have proven that, when given a choice, birds prefer conventionally grown seeds to organic foods.

Dr Ailsa McKenzie from the Newcastle University, together with Dr Mark Whittingham, decided to run a study of their own, in the lab and in the wild, to see how birds would react to the choices given to them. They decided to give the birds enough time to be able to differentiate between the two seeds. As expected, the birds ate from both bowls only for a short period of time. Once the birds began to notice the difference in the organic and conventionally grown seeds, they ate from the conventionally grown bowl of seeds more than sixty percent of the time. After running their studies in the laboratory, they moved their research to forty-seven gardens in the surrounding area. Bird feeders were placed in the gardens and the studies were conducted over two winter periods, for six weeks and then eight weeks. This experiment also proved to show that birds chose the conventionally farmed seeds over the organic feed.

Scientists do not believe that their choice has anything to do with the taste or health benefits, but rather the protein content of the seeds. Once back in the laboratory, seeds were again taken from over-fertilized crops and given to canaries, with a selection of low-protein organic seeds. Again, the birds showed more interest in the high-protein seeds. Inorganic nitrogen, which is used by farmers, eventually becomes protein, and it has been discovered that birds will rather eat protein rich feed than organic seeds. Dr McKenzie also stressed that these findings have no bearing on human diets, as seeds and wheat are not sources of protein for humans. The study has, however, shed light on the dietary habits and preferences of birds and their nutritional needs.

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