Health News - June 2012
The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost
By Jim Giza
Americans love to eat chicken and their eggs. The U.S. Department of
Agriculture estimates that Americans consumed almost 85 pounds of chicken in
2011. This is 84 percent more than the per capita consumption of pork and 46
percent more than beef. The National Chicken Council (NCC) 2012 Wing Report
(yes, there is such a report) estimates that in 2012 more than 3 billion pounds
of wings alone will be marketed as “chicken wings,” as opposed buying chickens
or breast quarters with the wings attached.
This wing-eating goal got jumpstarted when an estimated 100 million pounds were
eaten during this past Super Bowl weekend. As noted in the NCC report, if the
Ravens had played the Giants, we would have had the perfect storm of
wing-eating, apparently because the South Atlantic region chicken-eaters,
including Ravens fans, were considered 27 percent more likely to surpass the 23
percent national average for chowing down on wings during this time frame.
Makes you proud to know.
And if the Super Bowl wing-eating frenzy isn't enough to convince you that
chicken-wing eating is as American as apple pie and ingrained in our pop
culture, there is the Wing Bowl held this past February in Philadelphia where to
the delight of 20,000 fans, the Japanese eating champ, Kobayashi, scarfed down
337 wings, courtesy of 168 chickens, in 30 minutes and won $20,000. What a guy.
And when it comes to eggs, Americans put away an estimated 20 dozen plus per
capita in 2011 according to the United Egg Producers.
Mega Farms, Mega Concerns
But now the question to be answered is whether recent investigations into how
mega chicken farms raise many of these birds will prompt the American
finger-lickin’ public to look elsewhere for their chicken fix, opting to go
organic or find local farm-raised birds, organic or not.
Two recent studies, one by the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable
Future in the School of Public Health, published in the February 15 issue of
Science of the Total Environment, and another out of Arizona State University
published in the March 21 issue of Environmental Science & Technology,
examine feather meal. Feather meal is processed from poultry feathers, ground
into powder, and used as animal feed—chickens included. As highlighted in
an April 4 New York Times opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof, chicken feathers,
like human fingernails, accumulate residues of drugs and chemicals that the
birds ingest. Apparently factory birds—and, thus, possibly humans—are
getting a dose of arsenic. Arsenic makes meat pink and healthy looking and
kills parasites, and while it occurs naturally in the environment, it is a
toxic cancer-causing element and can contribute to heart disease and diabetes.
In addition to arsenic, the researchers found illegal antibiotics, as well as
acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol), Benadryl, an antihistamine
used to reduce anxiety, (stressed chickens produce tough meat),
antidepressants, and caffeine. The latter is from coffee pulp and green tea
powder fed to chickens to keep them awake and eating.
And then there’s the egg laying birds’ nightmares.
This past February and March, The Humane Society of the United States conducted
an undercover investigation at Kreider Farms. With 7 million hens spread over
four farms, Kreider is the largest egg producer in Pennsylvania. At its Manheim
location, the investigator found rotting chicken corpses in cages with egg
laying hens, piles of dead hens on barn floors, rodents on the conveyor belts,
thousands of hens dying after not having water over a two to three day period,
hens decapitated by automatic feeding carts, and mummified hen carcasses in
cages. Provided with 54-58 inches of living space, as many as 11 hens were
living in a cage 2 feet square.
On the upside, at the time of this writing, Maryland may be set to be the first
state to ban arsenic in chicken feed, something already outlawed in Canada and
the European Union. (One day we’ll catch up to the rest of the developed
If you have the desire and wherewithal to take charge of
your and your family's eating preferences, you might be interested in Community
Supported Agriculture (CSA). In a
CSA model, consumers buy directly from a regional farmer by paying up front for
a share in the season’s harvest. This helps cover production costs and ensures
a steady market by helping smaller farmers remain in business. Alternatively,
many local farms operate stores at their farms or attend local farmers’ markets
where they sell their chicken and eggs. For a listing of local farms that you
can approach about insuring your food is fresh and animals are humanely
treated, go to www.marylandagriculture.com
or marylandsbest.net. BC
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. June 2012