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The surprising link between chicken and better vegetables

SINGAPORE -- Lush lettuce, red and green, juicy passion fruit and ginseng berries and Ceylon spinach so fresh they are ready to eat without a rinse.

All these are being grown on farms across the Causeway with a special ingredient: a Singapore-developed fertilizer that came from some very special chickens.

These antibiotic-free fowl, from chicken farms in Johor owned by home-grown Kee Song Group, are fed food and water infused with Lactobacillus, which are “good bacteria” — certain strains of which can be found in drinks such as Yakult and Vitagen.

Not only is their meat lower in fat and cholesterol, but the chickens' droppings, which contain traces of Lactobacillus, have also turned out to be an excellent fertilizer, doing away with the need for chemical pesticides.

Plants grown using this fertilizer are more resistant to bugs, grow bigger, and are richer in phytochemicals — which studies suggest can reduce the risk of heart disease, asthma, diabetes, stroke and other diseases.

Dr. Chia Tet Fatt, the scientist behind the technology, said this is because the Lactobacillus “get rid of unhealthy pathogens in the soil,” creating a more conducive environment for the plants to grow in.

Dr. Chia is the director of Otemchi Biotechnologies, a Singapore firm that specializes in the Lactobacillus technology and is working with Kee Song on the project.

Of the 6,000 to 20,000 chickens Kee Song exports to Singapore every month, about 70 percent are premium grade — which means no antibiotics and growth hormones are used in the rearing process.

It also collects about 300 tons of droppings each month which are sent to its eco-farm for processing, in which more Lactobacillus are added to the manure during a 120-day fermentation period.

The fermentation also gets rid of any stench.

Then the fertilizer is sent to vegetable and fruit farms engaged by Otemchi, which exports Ceylon spinach, kangkong and sweet potato leaves to Singapore.

Available at supermarket chain Sheng Siong since last month, these vegetables cost between SG$1.20 and SG$1.55 a pack — more than regular vegetables. Still, said Dr. Chia, this is cheaper than organic vegetables which typically cost more than SG$2 per pack.

“We want to make it more economical, so we decided to price the vegetables between the premium and normal ranges,” said Mr. James Sim, business development manager at Kee Song Group, which together with Otemchi markets the vegetables under the Old Farmer brand.

Kee Song's poultry division is the first in Southeast Asia to successfully rear chickens on a large scale without feeding them any antibiotics and growth hormones.

Otemchi's Lactobacillus technology, which has already attracted interest from Brazil and South Korea, will be showcased at the Food and Hotel Asia 2014 trade show at the Singapore Expo next month.

“It is environmentally friendly,” said Dr. Chia. “It's a contribution from Singapore to the rest of the world.”

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