Waitrose has today announced that it will introduce the UK’s first chicken that is a source of omega 3.
Omegas 3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids which, as a key part of a balanced diet, help to maintain normal heart, brain and vision function.
Research undertaken in 2013 showed that people with the highest levels of omega 3 had a 40 per cent reduction in cardiovascular related deaths compared to people with the lowest levels.
Optimum health benefits are obtained from a daily intake of 250mg of omega 3 fatty acids as part of a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle.
Despite leading authorities recommending regular consumption of foods containing omega 3, research suggests that only 23% of the UK’s adult population consumes the recommended intake, generally classified as at least one portion of oily fish per week.
Intake levels are particularly low in children and young people.
The new omega 3 chicken is produced by Moy Park on in Northern Ireland to high welfare standards, which include plenty of natural light.
The chicken is enriched by feeding the birds on a diet containing an algae - the family of aquatic plants that includes kelp and seaweed - naturally rich in omega 3.
The taste and appearance of the chicken is the same as birds reared on a conventional diet.
The project, which has taken a decade to bring to market, came about as a result of concerns within the medical community that consumers were not including enough sources of omega 3 in their diets; this is of particular concern in children, who often do not like oily fish.
To help improve intake, the idea was conceived of developing a more popular protein containing a source of omega 3.
Heather Jenkins, Waitrose’s Agricultural Director, said: "Our research is showing that this nutritional breakthrough has the potential to have a significant impact on health.
"What’s exciting is that it’s improving the nutritional content of something which customers already consume frequently as part of their diets."
Professor Chris Elliott, Pro Vice Chancellor, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences, at Queen’s University Belfast, said: "It’s costing £10 billion a year to deal with problems of heart disease in the UK.
"Having a source of omega 3 in our diet has the potential for healthier hearts."
Professor Patrick Wall, Professor of Public Health, University College Dublin, added: "This is actually going to revolutionise nutrition.
"The idea that you can make an everyday product healthier suggests you could have a huge impact on health."
Dr Joanne Lunn, Waitrose Nutritionist, says: "This chicken will make a really useful contribution to our customers' omega 3 intake as we know it can be hard to consume enough omega 3 from other sources, especially if you are not a fan of fish."
Justin Coleman, Moy Park Agriculture Development Manager, said: "Food and farming innovation are important focus areas for Moy Park and we are proud to be the first poultry company in the UK to produce chicken enriched with omega 3.
"Including omega 3 in the chickens' natural diet makes this already healthy food even healthier."