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then you absolutely have to read Nicholas Kristof this morning.  Here's his first sentence:

Let’s hope you’re not reading this column while munching on a chicken sandwich.
And if that is not a slap across your face, the next will surely be punch to your gut:  
That’s because my topic today is a pair of new scientific studies
which  analyze chicken feathers the way one would our fingernails as repositories of the chemicals ingested.   So consider what the studies found.

In one:

 fluoroquinolones (the active ingredient in Cipro)

the active ingredient of Benadryl,

acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol)

 and if from China, the active ingredient in Prozac

In the other:

arsenic in 9 out of the 10 samples.

But then, his title would warn you, would it not?  It is Arsenic In Our Chicken?.

Welcome to the wonderful world of factory farming.  Might I suggest that at least for your mental health you keep reading?

Poultry-growing literature has recommended Benadryl to reduce anxiety among chickens, apparently because stressed chickens have tougher meat and grow more slowly. Tylenol and Prozac presumably serve the same purpose.

Researchers found that most feather-meal samples contained caffeine. It turns out that chickens are sometimes fed coffee pulp and green tea powder to keep them awake so that they can spend more time eating. (Is that why they need the Benadryl, to calm them down?)

I read the 2nd of those paragraphs, and somehow part of a song originally done by a group called The Great Society, and later by Jefferson Airplane (both groups featured Grace Slick as lead vocalist) came to mind:

"One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice, when she's ten foot tall."

Those lyrics from "The White Rabbit" were a 60s commentary on our drug dependent society, and Slick (who wrote the song) was not necessarily talking about those that were the focus of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Perhaps you are shocked.  Perhaps you are angry that you did not know what seems to be being fed to the poultry we eat.  Don't feel bad:  

These findings will surprise some poultry farmers because even they often don’t know what chemicals they feed their birds. Huge food companies require farmers to use a proprietary food mix, and the farmer typically doesn’t know exactly what is in it. I asked the United States Poultry and Egg Association for comment, but it said that it had not seen the studies and had nothing more to say.
Kristof rightly cautions that just because the chemical residue can be found in feathers does not mean it is in the meat.  Further, the amounts of chemicals (for example, arsenic) that are fed may be so small as to have little impact upon us.  Arsenic has apparently routinely been fed to poultry (and sometimes hogs)
because it reduces infections and makes flesh an appetizing shade of pink.
There is however a more serious problem.  Kristof points out that there is a possible serious side-effect of these practices common to factory-farming, one already recognized by the banning of directly feeing certain antibiotics to livestock:  these antiobiotics  
are illegal in poultry production because they can breed antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that harm humans. Already, antibiotic-resistant infections kill more Americans annually than AIDS, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Kristof grew up on a farm.  He acknowledges that there are benefits to industrial farming,
such as producing cheap food that saves us money at the grocery store. But we all may pay more in medical costs because of antibiotic-resistant infections.
The two studies come from Johns Hopkins and Arizona State Universities.  A principal author of one of the studies now eats organic.  Kristof responds
I’m the same. I used to be skeptical of organic, but the more reporting I do on our food supply, the more I want my own family eating organic — just to be safe.
  Referring to his growing up, in his family if their chickens were anxious it was usually because of the presence of a fox, and they did not address the prioblem by giving the chickens Prozac.  

I want to leave the conclusion of Kristof's column for you to read in context, after you have read the entire piece.

Understand that if you eat fast food poultry, Kristof's column is very relevant for you.

If you buy chickens from the large poultry producers like Tyson's, Perdue or Holly Farms, you are likely to be affected.

As for what store brand poultry you may consume, you would need to explore with that company how it buys its poultry.  I know that there are poultry cooperatives where the individual farmers may raise the birds but the birds are owned by the cooperative which also provides the feed, so even if they are raised on small family farms, some aspects of the contents of this column will still be applicable.

Too often in American society we only pay attention to upfront costs - what we pay directly to purchase an item.  Downstream costs are borne by society as a whole, and not applied to the producers of the items nor included in the purchase price.  Think of the accululation of hog wastes from large-scale hog farms in North Carolina and the impact that has upon water.  A non-food parallel is the destruction of the Appalachians and the pollution of streams in the river by mountaintop removal to gain access to coal, with the residue simply being dumped into the surrounding valleys.

Or, if I might repeat from Kristof by quoting his entire penultimate paragraph:  

My take is that the business model of industrial agriculture has some stunning accomplishments, such as producing cheap food that saves us money at the grocery store. But we all may pay more in medical costs because of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Somehow I do not plan to have chicken for lunch today.

What about you?

Originally posted to teacherken on Thu Apr 05, 2012 at 03:54 AM PDT.

Also republished by Meatless Advocates Meetup and Environmental Foodies.

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