By the end of this year, the first antibiotic-free and hormone-free chicken farm is expected to be established in T&T.
The idea is being hatched by founder of Blooms Imports, businessman Jason Francis.
For the past three years, Francis has been selling hormone-free chicken parts and whole chickens imported from the United States to restaurants, gourmet shops and selected supermarkets. The demand for this product by chicken lovers in T&T has been growing since they consider it safer and healthier to consume, and kinder to the environment.
Francis, who operates his business in Diego Martin, now wants to spread his wings and establish the country's first all-natural chicken farm.
According to Francis, the majority of locally grown chickens are injected with hormones and antibiotics. The antibiotics are injected into the eggs and added to the feed in low dosages in order to prevent diseases in the chickens. Hormones make chickens grow faster. A chicken grown on antibiotics and hormones sells for far less than an all-natural chicken. Hormone-free chicken breasts cost between 50 and 60 per cent more than local chicken breasts at supermarkets in T&T.
Francis said he sells whole antibiotic-free and hormone-free chicken at $20 per pound.
"This price includes a 61 per cent import duty which is passed on to the consumer. It is really expensive for me to bring in the chickens," Francis explained. He said, however, that once the farm comes on stream, he would sell whole chicken at $17 per pound. Francis thinks more people would be able to afford the chicken if it were grown locally.
On February 25, Francis in a Facebook video appealed to large and small poultry farmers to partner with him to start a hormone-free farm. The three-minute video generated a favourable response from several farmers, Francis said. Francis, a national of the US who married a Trinidadian, said one farmer expressed an interest in getting involved in the business.
"We are willing to put in the time and money to raise the all-natural chickens here. We are not going to sacrifice quality for quantity. I am almost there. I am almost to the point where I can say we are going to do it soon. The foremost thing is we want more customers to be able to buy the product. I think it is possible. It is not going to be easy. But we are going to give it our best shot."
So far, Francis said, one site in Debe had been identified, and a farmer in Tobago had also expressed interest.
Francis said the farm should be up and running within the next eight months, which could help reduce the food import bill, generate revenue for the country, supply a superior product to chicken lovers, and give the people of T&T a healthy alternative.
"The demand for the organic chicken is growing. In some cases, customers do not mind paying a little extra for the chicken that is not fed hormones and antibiotics," Francis said.
Once the farm becomes operational, Francis plans to sell whole chickens then parts.
He is yet to work out if the farm will operate on a small or large scale.
"Customers do their own research on chickens that are grown on hormones and antibiotics; that is why they come to us," Francis said.
He said many local farmers gave their chickens commercialised feed, which has a longer shelf life.
"If you are giving your chickens regular feed it is not organic. It's got medicines in that feed that they just do not know."
The farmer who partners with Imports Bloom must be able to mill his own feed, which Francis promises will be free from hormones.
"If they are unable to do this, we will import an all-natural feed from the US. We are not getting any response from the local mills or anybody from the feed companies that want to change their ingredients a little bit for us. There is one guy who is willing to set up a mill for us so they can put whatever ingredients we want in the feed," Francis said.
The farm would also pay attention to the way it processes its chickens.
Whereas birds are typically dipped in a vat of water after plucking, Francis plans to air dry the birds.
Information obtained from Wikipedia stated that every year, more than 40 billion chickens are slaughtered worldwide for meat, the vast majority of them intensively factory farmed.