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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Birds prefer non-organic seed

Contrary to popular opinion, birds do not prefer organic feed. In fact, they are significantly more likely to choose conventionally-grown seeds over organic.

Alisa McKenzie and her team from Newcastle University set out feeding stations across the North of England. In each garden, feeders containing seed from organically grown or from non-organically grown but otherwise identical plants were placed side by side. The researchers monitored which seeds were preferred over a period of six weeks. The positions of the two feeders were reversed halfway through each experiment. In addition, the entire experiment was repeated the following winter using different seed samples.

The birds strongly preferred the conventionally grown, non-organic seeds. When the feeder positions were switched, the birds quickly switched as well so as to continue to eat the conventional seeds.

The scientists suspect that the preference was due to the higher protein content in the non-organic seeds. On average, the conventional seeds had 10% more protein, a significant difference to a small bird trying to maintain energy levels.

Lab tests of captive canaries confirmed the avian preference for non-organic feed.

As McKenzie explains:

Conventionally-grown crops tend to contain significantly higher levels of protein than those grown organically due to the application of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers in conventional farming systems. This makes our findings potentially applicable across many food types and suggests the issues surrounding organic food are not as cut and dried as some might think.