If claims of an Erode-based export company in Tamil Nadu, dealing in poultry-based processed products, are to be believed, the vegetarian eggs are all set to become a reality in the domestic market.
SKM Egg Products Limited has branded certain eggs as vegetarian eggs, which are laid by the hens solely fed on a vegetarian diet. The company's processed egg products range from whole egg powder to yolk powder and albumen powder.
According to SKM Egg Products Ltd., chicks aged up to 8 weeks are brought to their farm and reared on specific feed for 72 weeks that is until they become layers. Since the eggs laid by hens are fed on vegetarian diet, these are termed as veggie eggs. On an average, each layer-hen in a poultry farm lays more than 300 eggs.
"Vegetarian means deriving from vegetable and plant source, and if you can consider milk as vegetarian in India, you can consider those commercial eggs available in markets as vegetarian too. Because they cannot be hatched," said Shivakumar, Managing Director, SKM Egg Products Ltd.
Usually, the poultry feed consists of fish meal (dry fish powder) as a protein supplement. But for the specially reared layers at the poultry farm of SKM Egg Products, the protein is soybeans. Such breed is considered healthy and nutrient rich.
The eggs laid by the hens fed on fishmeal contain antibiotic residues in the limit 0.5 parts per billion, which exceeds the limit, set by European countries. And. as a consequence, the company had to substitute soyabeans for fish powder.
"Normally, the feed contains the fish meal and sometimes they may be using other sources of calcium if you do not use this product fish meal as protein source, and use soya which is available as a source of protein. Then such egg can be termed as not containing ingredients produced from animal source," said Dr. Ravindran, a poultry farm produce expert.
Shivakumar also mentioned that as a part of their marketing strategy, a demand is being created for the vegetarian egg. And this will be highlighted by enlightening the public about poultry hens fed on animal-based feed and how these contain harmful residues and deposits detrimental to human health.
The company is exporting its major products to members of European Union and also Japan where a ban exists on products from layers fed on animal-based poultry feed.
"We do this not because there is demand for vegetarian eggs but we need to comply with developed countries norms for producing egg products where they stipulate that hens must be fed with 100 percent vegetarian diet because animal proteins can cause some residue problems in the processed product," Shivakumar added.
The company has set up its own poultry farm with nearly 1.5 million veggie chicks fed with vegetarian based poultry feed.
It exports 4,800 tonnes of egg powder to almost 27 countries. The company claims to export 65-70 percent of egg powder, making it largest poultry produce exporter in the country.
Set up by SKM Animal Feeds and Foods India Set up in 1996 with the assistance of Tamil Nadu Industries Development Corporation (TIDCO), the company's annual turnover stood at 8.45 crore during financial year 2006-07.