What’s in Your Chicken?

October 7, 2010

Today’s episode of The Dr. Oz Show, is titled ‘What’s in the Nation’s Chicken’. Oink. I can tell just by the title that the answer isn’t going to be “all good things”! Dr. Oz had three experts on the show with him today: Dr. David Kessler – Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Medicine, UCSF, former Commissioner of the FDA, and author of The End of Overeating; Dr. Urvashi Rangan – Environmental scientist, toxicologist, and food safety expert at the Consumer’s Union (they publish Consumer Reports magazine); and Dr. Robert Lawrence – Food security expert, and Director of the Center for Livable Future at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

Dr. Oz said that more and more, the foods we eat have been altered from their original state. For example, chickens are now scientifically bred to grow faster, have bigger breast and leg meat, and survive in confined conditions. In 1950, it took 70 days for a chicken to grow to full size, in 2008, it took just 48 days. And chickens now weight about 5 lbs, whereas 50 yrs ago they weighed 3 lbs. But chickens don’t just grow bigger and faster on their own. That wasn’t part of their natural evolution. They’ve had assistance.

Todays chickens are given a multitude of chemicals and drugs to make them big. They are routinely given antibiotics, and roxarsone – an organic version of arsenic. Some other chemicals found in chicken are: monosodium glutamate, salt, and sodium erythorbate (additives); and trisodium phosphate (a cleaning agent). Chickens are fed antibiotics for multiple reasons: 1) to treat diseases, 2) to prevent diseases they might get from living in such close quarters, and 3) to increase their growth rate.

Dr. Oz is concerned that we need a prescription from a doctor to take an antibiotic, yet chickens are routinely given them. Of course, when we consume those chickens, we consume the antibiotics in their system as well. He is worried by this practice because regular usage of antibiotics, can lead to the development of drug-resistant strains of superbugs. Consumer Reports conducted a study in January, and found that 2/3 of the pathogens and bacteria found in poultry (like salmonella), are resistant to one or more antibiotics. They are now resistant to common antibiotics like tetracycline, amoxicillin, ampicillin and ciprofloxacin. Once the pathogens are able to resist some antibiotics, they become stronger against others. The FDA and CDC have both issued guidelines on the careful use of antibiotics in our food supply, but we have no idea how many are used in the average chicken. It’s one thing to use antibiotics to treat sick animals, another to use them to make them grow faster. 

There are four major differences in today’s chickens: 1) size, 2) antibiotics in feed, 3) growth rate, 4) use of roxarsone – organic version of arsenic – in feed. Roxarsone is a growth promoter. It shortens the time it takes to get chickens to market rate. It is regulated by the FDA, and accepted as an additive to prevent chickens from getting bugs in their guts and getting sick. You can sometimes tell when a chicken has been injected with roxarsone, because it turns the skin a slight yellow color. 

Dr. Oz said that the use of all these antibiotics and drugs is the result of increased demand for chicken. He said that our behavior as consumers, is what drives the industry, so we are the ones with the power to change it. He used Stonyfield Farms as an example. It is an organic farm, that makes the 3rd best-selling yogurt in the U.S. They don’t use insecticides, chemical fertilizers, artificial hormones or antibiotics, and they demand the same from their farmers.  Their motto is: “healthy food, healthy people, healthy planet”. They have proven that people are willing to pay a little more, for healthy food. Last year they grossed over $350 million. Dr. Oz said “When you buy something, you’re voting. If you buy organic, corporate America will take note.” He believes consumers can make reforms to the chicken industry, as they did to the yogurt industry.

In the final segment of the show, Dr. Oz broke down the meaning behind certain food labels often found on chicken packages. Organic: Grown without antibiotics, grown with access to the outdoors, no animal byproducts in their feed, and not doused with synthetic pesticides. Raised without antibiotics: This is not a verified label. Consumers are relying on the company to be honest. The USDA does not verify these claims. The chickens may receive antibiotics, and arsenic compounds can still be used in this chicken since it is not considered an antibiotic. Free-range: This means the USDA certifies just 5 min of open-air access a day. It doesn’t certify open-air access for their entire life. It only means they were given the option to go outdoors, for no defined period. A farmer can open the door for 5 min a day, shut the door, and still be considered free-range. Hormone-free: This is a redundant, bogus label, designed to make the chicken sound good. Per USDA regulations, hormone administration is prohibited. All chicken is hormone-free. The only label that really matters, is organic.

Here is the link to this segment of The Dr. Oz Show: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/whats-nations-chicken-pt-1


Image Source: http://www.hardbody.com/news/2010/10/12/whats-in-chicken-check-out-dr-ozs-chicken-decoder/

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