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RNA is a naturally occurring nucleic acid present in all living cells. There is no evidence that a synthetic version of it is being added to commercial chicken feed.
Aside from a current outbreak of avian flu affecting U.S. poultry populations, reasons behind sudden drops in egg production more generally may include management mistakes, improper chicken nutrition, parasite infection, disease and stress, poultry science experts said.
"Ribonucleic acid" was once a pretty innocuous term. But after the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in new vaccines that used the natural substance, known as RNA, all sorts of misleading claims about it have emerged online.
The latest comes from a viral TikTok video about chickens.
"So, it seems like a lot of people are having problems with their chickens laying eggs and a lot of conclusions most people are coming up with is that it’s most likely the feed," a man is heard saying in the video, which was shared Jan. 19 on Facebook. " But what I don’t see people asking is what is it about the feed that’s causing chickens not to lay eggs."
The clip bears the title "Is the feed making chickens not lay well?" It shows the narrator scrolling through studies that discuss chicken feed efficiency. "I came across how they want to use RNA technology in the food supply," the man continues. "Well, I think here it is folks. I found plenty of information about using RNA sequencing in the feed and dealing with chickens that this could potentially be it."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.
There is no evidence that synthetic RNA is being added to chicken feed. It does not appear as an approved ingredient for commercial feed, and experts and officials in the feed industry told us the claim is inaccurate.
"No — commercial feed manufacturers are not adding RNA to chicken feed," said Victoria Broehm, spokesperson for the American Feed Industry Association, a nonprofit that represents the U.S. animal feed industry. "RNA is in the chicken’s natural biology. Chickens may stop laying eggs for a number of reasons, and it is not uncommon for new backyard chicken owners to discover this and be confused by it."
RNA is a nucleic acid present in all living cells that has structural similarities to DNA. Its primary function is carrying genetic information that ribosomes, acting as molecular factories, translate into proteins necessary for cellular processes.
The video misinterprets the function of RNA sequencing, a technique that examines RNA in a sample to see the full range of molecules an organism expresses. This allows researchers to learn more about a cell. The reports referred to in the video were from 2015 and discussed using RNA sequencing to get more information about feed efficiency. None talked about adding RNA to feed.
"The claims in this video are absurd," said Dianna Bourassa, an associate professor and extension specialist in poultry processing at Auburn University.
"RNA-sequencing in this context is being used to see how differences in feed efficiency can be explained by what levels of RNA are produced by the chicken's cells," she said. "All cells produce RNA in order to make proteins which are used for biological life. RNA is not being added to feed. RNA sequencing isn’t used in the feed. This statement doesn’t even make sense."
Jacqueline Jacob, poultry extension project manager at the University of Kentucky, also told PolitiFact the RNA-is-in-chicken-feed claim has no merit, noting that nothing is added to commercial feed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn’t approved.
The USDA referred PolitiFact’s questions to the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA told us that RNA is not, on its own, a feed additive and that the articles cited are not relevant to the argument made in the video.
"There are many reasons why a chicken’s egg laying behavior and quantity could change. If animal producers are concerned about changes in their flock, the FDA recommends consulting a licensed veterinarian, who can examine the animal(s) and take a detailed medical and diet history," the agency said in an emailed statement. "None of these articles mentions adding RNA to commercial chicken feed or modifying chicken feed. The focus is on breeding."
Jacob shared a paper she co-authored that outlined some reasons flocks might experience sudden drops in egg production. These include management practices, improper bird nutrition, parasite infection, disease and stress.
"Most reasons small flocks have reduced feed are nutrition-related," Jacob wrote in an email. "People (will use) the wrong feed or mix a complete feed with scratch grains or cracked corn, diluting the nutrients in the complete feed and causing a nutritional deficiency. Another big reason is the number of hours of light per day." (Hens require about 14 hours of light per day to maintain their production).
A TikTok video claims that RNA is being added to feed and that’s why chickens aren’t laying eggs.
RNA is a naturally occurring nucleic acid found in all living cells. There’s no evidence that any synthetic version of it is being added to commercial chicken feed, or that it’s causing a sudden drop in the number of eggs hens are laying.
Reasons for sudden egg production drops may include management mistakes, improper chicken nutrition, parasite infection, disease and stress, experts said.
We rate this False.
Facebook post, Jan. 19, 2023
United States Department of Agriculture, Avian influenza outbreaks reduced egg production, driving prices to record highs in 2022, Jan. 11, 2023
University of Kentucky, Why Have My Hens Stopped Laying?
Association of American Feed Control Officials, Chapter Six Official Feed Terms, Common or Usual Ingredient Names and Ingredient Definitions, Accessed Jan. 25, 2023
Email interview, Jacqueline Jacob poultry extension project manager at the University of Kentucky department of animal and food sciences, Jan. 23-24, 2023
Email interview, Samuel Aggrey, Richard B. Russell professor/chair at the the University of Georgia department of poultry science, Jan. 24, 2023
Email interview, Victoria Broehm, senior director of communications for the American Feed Industry Association, Jan. 25, 2023
Email interview, Dianna Bourassa, an associate professor and extension specialist in poultry processing at Auburn University, Jan. 25, 2023
Email interview, Veronika Pfaeffle, press officer for the Food and Drug Administration, Jan. 23-25, 2023
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