SINGAPORE - A local company experimented by doing away with antibiotics for its poultry and found it produced healthier chickens.
Its methods also ended up being studied by industry players in Brazil and South Korea.
Kee Song Brothers Poultry has become the first poulterer in South-east Asia to prove healthy chickens can be reared successfully on a large scale, without feeding its birds any antibiotics.
Instead they are given "good bacteria" called lactobacilli in their food and water.
Tests involving the breeding of 180,000 chickens at the firm's Johor farm showed Kee Song's chickens had a survival rate of 98 per cent to 99 per cent, compared with normal-grown chickens that had survival rates of 95 per cent.
The former also contained lower fat and cholesterol levels and were less likely to suffer from diarrhoea, which is prevalent in chicken farms worldwide.
"We have been developing our technology over the past 2 1/2years but on a smaller scale," said Dr Chia Tet Fatt, the scientist behind the technology.
Dr Chia is also the director of Otemchi Biotechnologies, which worked with Kee Song on the project.
He added that the experiment is a breakthrough due to its scale. "Usually, when there are a lot of chickens in a farm, disease will spread like wildfire. That's why farms use antibiotics."
Kee Song's business development manager James Sim said that while the company has no intention of exporting the technology, industry players from South Korea and Brazil have expressed interest in finding out more about it. Last year, a farming association from Brazil toured its farm in Malaysia to find out more.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said only some antibiotics are approved to be used in poultry production. A spokesman added: "Abuses of antibiotics in poultry production to treat or prevent infection in the bird may result in development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the birds.
"As bacteria become resistant, it will become more difficult to prevent and treat infections caused by them in the birds."
Every month, Kee Song exports 550,000 chickens from its Malaysian farms to Singapore. Out of these, 12 per cent of the chickens are premium grade - which means no antibiotics are used in the entire rearing process.
Kee Song, known for its Sakura chickens sold exclusively by FairPrice, sells its antibiotics-free chickens under its Imperial Cordyceps and Carogold labels.
A lecturer at Republic Polytechnic's School of Applied Science, Ms Tessa Riandini, said most lactobacilli are probiotics, which are beneficial for health due to their ability to fight pathogenic bacteria.
She added: "Incorporating lactobacilli in chicken feed may have some benefits, although it is also dependent on using the correct species of lactobacilli."
Kee Song's new technology will be shown at the Food and Hotel Asia 2014 trade show at the Singapore Expo in April.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.