British Journal of Nutrition

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British Journal of Nutrition (2010), 103:663-676 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © The Authors 2009

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Metabolism and Metabolic Studies

Effects of organically and conventionally produced feed on biomarkers of health in a chicken model

Machteld Hubera1 c1, Lucy P. L. van de Vijvera1, Henk Parmentiera2, Huub Savelkoula2, Leon Couliera3, Suzan Wopereisa3, Elwin Verheija3, Jan van der Greefa3, Dré Nieropa4 and Ron A. P. Hoogenbooma5

a1 Louis Bolk Institute, Hoofdstraat 24, NL-3972 LA Driebergen, The Netherlands
a2 Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen UR, PO Box 338, NL-6700 AH Wageningen, The Netherlands
a3 TNO Quality of Life, Utrechtseweg 48, NL-3704 HE Zeist, The Netherlands
a4 Muvara BV Statistics, Tijmtuin 8, 2353 PH Leiderdorp, The Netherlands
a5 RIKILT – Institute of Food Safety, Wageningen UR, PO Box 230, 6700 AE Wageningen, The Netherlands
Article author query
huber m [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
van de vijver lpl [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
parmentier h [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
savelkoul h [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
coulier l [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
wopereis s [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
verheij e [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
van der greef j [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
nierop d [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
hoogenboom rap [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]


Consumers expect organic products to be healthier. However, limited research has been performed to study the effect of organic food on health. The present study aimed to identify biomarkers of health to enable future studies in human subjects. A feeding experiment was performed in two generations of three groups of chickens differing in immune responsiveness, which were fed identically composed feeds from either organic or conventional produce. The animals of the second generation were exposed to an immune challenge and sacrificed at 13 weeks of age. Feed and ingredients were analysed on macro- and micronutrients, i.e. vitamins, minerals, trace elements, heavy metals and microbes. The chickens were studied by general health and immune parameters, metabolomics, genomics and post-mortem evaluation. The organic and conventional feeds were comparable with respect to metabolisable energy. On average, the conventionally produced feeds had a 10 % higher protein content and some differences in micronutrients were observed. Although animals on both feeds were healthy, differences between the groups were found. The random control group of chickens fed conventional feed showed overall a higher weight gain during life span than the group on organic feed, although feed intake was mostly comparable. The animals on organic feed showed an enhanced immune reactivity, a stronger reaction to the immune challenge as well as a slightly stronger ‘catch-up growth’ after the challenge. Biomarkers for future research were identified in the parameters feed intake, body weight and growth rate, and in immunological, physiological and metabolic parameters, several of these differing most pronounced after the challenge.

(Received March 19 2009)

(Revised July 21 2009)

(Accepted August 14 2009)

(Online publication October 28 2009)

Key Words:Organic food; Intervention; Chicken model; Biomarkers; Immunology; Metabolomics; Nutrigenomics


c1 Corresponding author: Machteld Huber, fax +31 343515611, email


Abbreviations: AB, antibody; APR, acute phase reaction; C-line, control chicken line; H-line, high chicken line; KLH, keyhole limpet haemocyanin; LC, liquid chromatography; LPC, lysophosphatidylcholines; LPS, lipopolysaccharide; L-line, low chicken line; NCD, Newcastle disease