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7 Horrifying Things About the Chicken You Eat

Health & Wellness  (tags: abuse, americans, animals, bad food, children, chicken, disease, dishonesty, ethics, health, humans, illness, investigation, prevention, protection, research, risks, science )

- 1681 days ago -
Many people eat only chicken to avoid the health and environmental questions surrounding red meat. Yet the track record of US chicken may be worse.

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Kit B (276)
Friday October 18, 2013, 11:14 am
Photo Credit: Screen Shot from Alternet

Could there be anything worse for the chicken industry than this month's outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella that hospitalized 42 percent of everyone who got it—almost 300 in 18 states?

Yes. The government also announced that China has been cleared to process chickens for the US dinner plate and that all but one of arsenic compounds no one even knew they were eatinghave been removed from US poultry production. Thanks for that. Also this month, some food researchers have revealed the true recipe for chicken "nuggets"…just in time for Halloween.

Many people have decided to eat only chicken to avoid the health, environmental, worker and humane questions surrounding red meat. Yet the track record of US chicken in these areas is no better than red meat—and may be worse.

Here are some things you should really know about your chicken.

1. Extreme Salmonella

Do you remember the joke "denial is not a river in Egypt"? Well "Heidelberg" is not a charismatic city in Germany when you're talking about food. It is a monster version of salmonella, some strains of which are resistant to seven antibiotics, says Christopher Braden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention division of foodborne diseases.

Thirteen percent of people affected by the current outbreak have salmonella septicemia, a serious, life-threatening, whole-body inflammation, says Braden. The contamination stems from "fecal material on carcasses, poor sanitary dressing practices, insanitary food contact surfaces, insanitary nonfood contact surfaces, and direct product contamination," says the USDA. That about covers it. The California-based Foster Farms, believed to be the source of the outbreak, has had salmonella problems for a decade says Food Poisoning News. Nor has the government shut them down, even now.

Salmonella is a "naturally occurring bacteria," says the USDA and hence allowed in food—but we are supposed to cook chicken and other products to at least 165°F to kill it and other microbial freeloaders. But Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest disagrees with the government's leniency. Salmonella strains like Heidelberg “are too hot for consumers to handle in their kitchens,” she told USA Today.

2. E. Coli

Just because chicken has salmonella doesn't mean it doesn't also have E. coli! Eighty-seven percent of chicken carcasses test positive for E. coli before they are sent to stores, reports Salon. E. coli is considered more dangerous than salmonella by the USDA and was one of the reasons Russia banned 19 US poultry producers in 2008 (along with US arsenic residues). Antibiotic-resistant E. coli traces were found in samples of raw conventional chicken, chickens "raised without antibiotics" and kosher chicken purchased in New York City in April.

The highest E. coli incidence was, surprisingly, found in the kosher chicken. Last year, researchers writing in Emerging Infectious Diseasesreported that E. coli in chicken is genetically closer to human E. coli than E. coli in beef and pork samples and could put people at risk for urinary tract infections when they are exposed to it because of its similarity.

3. Arsenic

"What Was Arsenic Doing in Our Chicken, Anyway?" asked a Bloomberg article after the FDA reported the end of all but one poultry arsenic product this month, four years after the Center for Food Safety filed a petition. The agency announced that the Center's petition to have the approvals of arsenic-containing poultry feed revoked had become "moot" after the "sponsors of those drugs requested that FDA withdraw the approvals for those products." One of the four compounds, nitarsone, is still on the market while the FDA reviews its safety.

Why are birds fed arsenic? It has been approved in poultry feed for years to control parasites, promote weight gain and improve feed efficiency and "pigmentation." A 2013 study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found detectable levels of arsenic in chicken from grocery stores in 10 American cities, including organic chickens.

Nor is arsenic the only unwanted chemical guest. Looking at feathers of factory farmed birds, researchers have also found evidence of caffeine and the active ingredients in Tylenol, Benadryl and Prozac reports the New York Times'Nicholas Kristof. The caffeine is supposed to keep chickens awake so they eat more, while Benadryl, Tylenol and Prozac are supposed to reduce their anxiety so their meat doesn't get tough, says Kristof.

4. Antibiotics

Where do antibiotic-resistant salmonella and E. coli in chicken come from? Is that a trick question? More than 70 percent of US antibiotics go to livestock—more than 29 million pounds of antibiotics a year—which of course creates antibiotic resistance. The antibiotic-resistant pathogens aren't just a risk to food, they're a risk to farm workers. Ellen Silbergeld, professor of environmental health sciences at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, found 63 percent of the chicken workers at one plant had been colonized by Campylobacter jejuni, a germ that is the second leading cause of gastrointestinal disease in the US. One hundred percent of people living near the plant but not working there who were tested had Campylobacter jejuni too.

In 2008, the USDA caught chicken giant Tyson Foods claiming "no antibiotics" in its ads and labels while brazenly using the human antibiotic gentamicin as "standard practice" in its chickens. Tyson has been charged with other scourges affecting Big Chicken, such as cruelty to animals, paying smugglers to transport illegal workers, and violating the Clean Water Act. Tyson was also investigated for bribing veterinarians in Mexico, but never charged.

5. Chicken Yuckets

No one has ever thought chicken nuggets were actually good for you. Last year, the Daily Mail reported a girl who lived on only McDonald's Chicken McNuggets collapsed and was diagnosed with anemia and inflamed veins on her tongue. Now, some researchers writing in the American Journal of Medicine have revealed new facts about the mystery meat. Some nuggets that were examined were a mix of fat, blood vessels and nervesincluding cells that line the skin and internal organs. Other nuggets were mostly fat, cartilage and bone with only 40 percent muscle meat.

A few years ago, CNN revealed that Chicken McNuggets in the US contain an anti-foaming agent called dimethylpolysiloxane found in Silly Putty and the petroleum-based preservative tBHQ also called tertiary butylhydroquinone. After the American Journal of Medicine article, Mother Jones' Tom Philpott asked Tyson about the wholesomeness of its Fun Nuggets. Tyson referred him to the National Chicken Council, which said, "Chicken nuggets are an excellent source of protein, especially for kids who might be picky eaters."

6. Chicken From China

Put the words "food" and "China" together and many people think of the 1,950 cats and 2,200 dogs who perished from China-produced pet food a few years ago and the Asian melamine milk scandals that plague Asian countries. Still the takeover of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui, the biggest takeover of a US company, shows our food future is being shaped by China—and chicken is no exception.

Many missed the announcement that the Obama administration has approved chicken processed in China to be sold in the US without a country-of-origin label. The chickens will be raised and slaughtered in USDA-approved US or Canada operations, but sent to China for processing (which is called "labor-intensive") and sent back to the US. The savings in farming out the labor is apparently greater than the cost of shipping the chickens both to and from China—though no one is talking about the carbon footprint. Nor is anyone talking about how the chickens will be preserved during their overseas voyages and how old they will be when they finally get to the dinner table.

No USDA officials will be onsite at the Chinese chicken processing plants which will, instead, "self-verify" their quality as plants are increasingly doing here. The National Chicken Council says the processed chicken will have "increased inspection upon entry into the United States” and that substandard exporters will be disqualified. Whew.

7. Cruelty to Animals

Chemicals, cost cutting and outsourcing labor take a toll on the birds whose lives and deaths are increasingly inhumane. Chickens were once slaughtered at 14 weeks when they weighed about two pounds but by 2001, they were being slaughtered at seven weeks when they weighed between four and six pounds Today they are even bigger and their lives shorter. In fact, chickens are now grown so quickly, if humans grew as fast, we’d weigh 349 pounds by our second birthday. As a result, chickens have constant bone disease, live in chronic pain and perish from eerie, factory-farm related diseases.

"Good birds on their sides or breasts, scattered in a random fashion in the pen also usually are considered to be dead from flip-over," says Poultry News. "Diagnosis is supported by the full GI tract (particularly the full intestine); the large, pale liver; the large, normal bursa; the contracted ventricles and dilated, blood-filled atria; the lung congestion and edema; and the lack of pathological lesions."

Assembly lines move so fast in today's chicken slaughterhouses, poultry workers, the government and even the chicken industry admit that the birds break their own bones in struggling to escape the uncaring death that the pursuit of cheap meat forces on them.

By: Martha Rosenberg | Alternet |

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter and the author of Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus Books).

David C (25)
Friday October 18, 2013, 11:45 am
> 7 Horrifying Things About the Chicken You Eat
i don't.

" Animals are my friends and I don't eat my friends. " -- George Bernard Shaw (1856-1959)

Arielle S (313)
Friday October 18, 2013, 12:11 pm
We vegetarians know that we get asked all the time, "but you eat chicken, don't you?" Heck, no - everything in this article is a darn good reason to abolish chicken farms forever. They are an environmental disaster, too, as that arsenic and the run off from chicken farms goes into aquifers and then drinking water. So many other things to eat that are not dangerous!

JL A (281)
Friday October 18, 2013, 3:40 pm
Scary stuff indeed!

Sara V (0)
Friday October 18, 2013, 4:31 pm
No, the key is not to "abolish chicken farms forever." The operative is to know where your food comes from. Go out to the farms yourself and select birds which are running around free on the premises. Buy a chicken which has had a good life. Do not support factory farming. Support only family/small farms, or don't eat animal products at all. If we all followed our consciences, this would not be happening.

Michela M (3964)
Friday October 18, 2013, 5:05 pm


Bryan S (105)
Friday October 18, 2013, 5:50 pm
You pretty much can't eat anything produced by large food companies without damaging your health and the environment, and contributing to cruelty. And how f'n insane is it to ship chickens to China to be processed?

We could either hope that these horrible farming/processing methods are abolished, which would mean a government going against corporate profit, or that enough people put more importance on the bigger picture rather than convenience. So neither will happen anytime soon.

Thanks Kit for the article.

Robert B (60)
Friday October 18, 2013, 6:08 pm
I glad I don't eat animals.

Laurie H (817)
Friday October 18, 2013, 7:22 pm
This sounds pretty unappetizing to say the least!!! Since I don't eat ANY animals, I now know, what else I'm NOT missing. Thanks so much Kit for sharing!!~~~~

Past Member (0)
Friday October 18, 2013, 9:10 pm
So happy to be a Veggie!

Inge B (202)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 2:50 am
Become a vegan or you die early in life.


Athena F (131)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 3:43 am
Thank you!

Lindsay K (6)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 3:52 am

Ben O (171)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 5:31 am
And, some people wonder why I don't eat that disgusting shite...???

Ron M (52)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 1:38 pm
Chicken???? Oh, you mean that stuff that resembles chicken!!

All I can say is: Y'all just figured this out? This is not news! Been like this for decades and other meats are not much different either if not worse in some cases. Just so you know now! Pay attention please!!

Happy munching!!

Kit B (276)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 1:46 pm

Don't eat anything with a face and buy your fruits and vegetables very carefully and things should be okay. Maybe not safe - far too many things that poison our water and soil.

Bryan S (105)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 3:03 pm
Kit, those are good guidelines to at least being safer, and would change the system if enough people did it.

True, Ron, our food system has been pretty bad in several ways for quite awhile. I'm not sure if condescending remarks toward people spreading this awareness is the best way to change things.

Birgit W (160)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 4:19 pm

Anne K (139)
Saturday October 19, 2013, 7:57 pm
The first horrifying thing I learned about the chickens I ate was the shocking way in which they were packed into crates alive - battered, broken, possibly suffocating- and loaded onto trucks bound for the slaughterhouse. I saw this on the eastern shore of Maryland when I was a teenager, and I stopped eating chickens!

Debra Van Way (12)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 12:23 pm
I don't eat meat and chickens make wonderful pets and give the gift of eggs in exchange for all the bugs, organic feed, fresh water they want and a good safe clean home to live in. They do occasionally get revenge on those that mistreat, kill and eat them. Guess who's side I am on.

Sunday October 20, 2013, 12:29 pm
Thanks for sharing.

Amy Fisher (11)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 1:37 pm
I avoid chicken like the plague.

Phyllis P (237)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 2:11 pm
Good information. Thanks

Barbara V (51)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 2:25 pm
Evil like this runs amok, but NOBODY WILL DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. What a disgrace to the human racej! They have turned into monsters. That kind of mentality has no compassion, no kindness. All they want is money, and they want it fast. Cruelty abounds, and mark my words: One of these days they will get theirs for the horrors they have subjected animals to. Damn them to you know WHERE.

Ruth C (87)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 2:29 pm
I'm a Vegan.
I feel so sorry for those poor Chickens, all the suffering that people put them through then they kill them.

DaleLovesOttawa O (198)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 8:57 pm
The simplistic statement to be a vegan or you will die early in life is patently ridiculous. There are many vegetarians who live long and also omnivores. Those eating meat often live long lives and those of us who avoid eating factory farmed meat and eat small portions of meat are very healthy. Some vegans and vegetarians get cancer and many people eating meat live very long lives. One has to follow a balanced diet and avoided highly processed factory farmed chickens or other meat from factory farms. I don't live in the U.S. so won't be worrying about chickens being processed in China. For those living in the U.S. finding their chicken from small farms that don't factory farm, that won't be a problem either if it is organic.

Shawna S (45)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 9:21 pm
Many of these horrifying things are why I stopped eating chicken 4 years ago. Chicken Nuggets anyone?? LOL. Nasty stuff.
Thanks for sharing.

Sheila D (194)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 10:34 pm
So much for ou own government caring what we, the People, eat. So much for Michele Obama and her obesity obsession. Have't had chicken for a good long while and don't plan on eating it again anytime soon.

Karen Chestney (112)
Sunday October 20, 2013, 11:11 pm
Thank-you..........This article is scarey...and it's horrible !!! I will never chicken ....EVER !!!!

Helen Porter (39)
Monday October 21, 2013, 2:02 am
I don't eat flesh.

I am grateful that I don't.

But even our grains have MGOs.

Helen Porter (39)
Monday October 21, 2013, 2:05 am
Don't you just hate that little sign that pops can't earn credits for leaving a comment because you've already earned the daily maximum.

We are not politicians nor are we Goliath companies with tumors and lumps of fat.

We are on line activists.

We are working because we care.....not to get ego points.

Craig Pittman (52)
Monday October 21, 2013, 5:38 am
Yet another excellent reason to grow/raise your own food or else purchase only from family owned and operated farms. Thanks Kit.

S S (0)
Monday October 21, 2013, 11:43 am
Thank you.

Franshisca Dearmas (89)
Tuesday October 22, 2013, 1:41 pm
Good information, Noted. TY Kit

DaleLovesOttawa O (198)
Wednesday October 30, 2013, 8:06 pm
Yes, but one can't always believe the can't earn more points message either because there are many times when one still gets points after that message pops up, Lol!

For those eating chicken, avoid the factory farms and obtain food from small farms where chickens are raised organically, where they are free to run around outside all day and see the sunshine, the green grass and are not fed GMO feed or get pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. It is terrible that many chickens are stuck in cages with many others, this is not natural.

Yes, it is true that so many veggies are also now GMO, best to avoid those as well since Monsanto is busy getting a grip on veggie/fruit production as well. Nothing is safe with Monsanto around!

Sergio Padilla (65)
Thursday October 31, 2013, 1:26 pm

SuSanne P (193)
Monday November 4, 2013, 12:47 pm
This is not news to me as I believe people who say "I only eating chicken" are eating the worst of the worst. On a positive note being chicken lovers, please read Dale O's post just 2 up from this. She can calmly and accurately communicate what I am unable to speak due to a disconnect in my brain. I am tired of sounding like a lunatic while being misunderstood because I am unable to process my thought like others. The bottom line is I have a mental dis-ease while trying to communicate.

"For those eating chicken, avoid the factory farms and obtain food from small farms where chickens are raised organically, where they are free to run around outside all day and see the sunshine, the green grass and are not fed GMO feed or get pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. It is terrible that many chickens are stuck in cages with many others, this is not natural."

SuSanne P (193)
Monday November 4, 2013, 12:52 pm
TO PROVE MY POINT, this is the post I 'meant' to share by Dale O...Sunday October 20, 2013, 8:57 pm

Klaus Peters (14)
Monday December 9, 2013, 4:37 am
This is putting me off chicken alright.
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