Originally published in the Independent on 30th August 2020
For many years mankind has been producing poor-quality white light because that was all that our technology could offer us. The colours used to make up the white light (also known as the spectrum) were either heavily biased towards the red and orange area (think yellowy incandescent light bulbs) or very random and inconsistent (like fluorescent lighting). Both also have a flicker to them based on the frequency of mains electricity. Lighting was mass-produced to fit humans' needs. We simply disregarded the fact that for the most part animals experience light differently to us. Now that the technology to offer specific spectra has become available via LEDs, a small group of companies are realising that we can tailor solutions to the needs of the animals. This improvement in husbandry is offering some surprising benefits.
UK based company Biosystems was borne from an unlikely place: It is a division of Tropical Marine Centre, who are Europe's top wholesaler and manufacturer of tropical marine livestock and equipment. But since 1970 they have been looking after animals. Marine fish and invertebrates may seem very different to horses, pigs and poultry but it is undeniable that animal husbandry has its similarities across the board and environmental controls play a large part in that. Having developed an LED lighting system that could withstand very hostile saltwater environments, they started looking towards spectrum and daylength control to get the best health and growth from the animals being kept. Throughout their research, the biologists at Tropical Marine Centre kept noting that the specific blue/green light used in their products (dubbed 'Nature Perfect' Blue) was the active part in light that affects the biological processes in nearly all complex organisms, including humans. Remember all the headlines a while back surrounding the blue light in your phone and computer screens keeping you up at night? Well, it is the same for almost any animal you can think of! But it went further than that. You see it turns out that the Nature Perfect blue that they use in Biosystems' Biolumen range of lighting is perfect for two things:
1. Interacting with the pineal gland to help synchronise hormonal cycles.
2. Improving ungulates' visual acuity, including horses and pigs which tend to see mostly blue/green light.
Some lighting is incapable of either of these things. If you put the humble light bulb over a pig it may as well be in the dark!
So what is the overall effect? Generally, animals seem much calmer under this light and as a result, can have fewer health issues. Happy and healthy animals tend to be more productive. There is evidence of pigs with better feed conversion ratios. There are chickens that are laying for longer. The lights have also been used in racing stables to keep horses in their summer coat. And all of this on top of energy savings! It seems that this technology is well worth exploring.