Lots of chicken news in the media this week.
The live birth of a baby chick to a hen in Sri Lanka made international news. Headlines instantly pinged around the globe proclaiming the answer to the age old “which came first” conundrum. What really happened is that the chick developed normally in an egg that was, sadly, retained in the mother hen’s body during the twenty-one day gestation period. The baby chick hatched from the egg and managed to be expelled live from the hen, who subsequently died from injuries sustained as a result of the anomalous birth. The chick, however, is alive, healthy and at least momentarily famous. Perhaps if we stay tuned, it will grow up and reveal to the world the truth about why the chicken crosses the road.
Closer to home, U.S. media has been reporting on a recent FDA announcement regarding the use of antibiotics in commercially-raised livestock. There is so much contradictory information swirling around this subject that it seems nearly impossible to get the straight story, but the topic has become a hot button as consumers become increasingly concerned that the antibiotic-laced animal products they eat are contributing to the rise of “superbugs” or antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
The FDA has ruminated on this issue for a staggering thirty-five years and still, no substantive conclusion has been reached. According to a March 23, 2012 article in the New York Times “In 1977, the F.D.A. announced that it would begin banning some agricultural uses (for antibiotics) . But the House and Senate appropriations committees passed resolutions against the ban, and the agency retreated.” When you’ve got a Clash of the Titans betwixt Big Government, Big Farm and Big Pharma, it’s hard to say who will win, but it seems unlikely that you or I will have much say in the matter.
Antibiotics are routinely administered to commercially-raised cattle, pork and poultry, not just to address disease but to guarantee a more resilient and robust product. A recent study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Arizona State University found that a banned class of broad-spectrum antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones were found in feather meal, a byproduct of poultry processing which is commonly added to chicken, swine, cattle and fish feed. (So yes, those commercially-raised chickens are unknowingly consuming the remains of their relatives, yuck!) Twelve samples from six U.S. states and China were studied and were found to have 2 to 10 antibiotic residues. Also found in the samples were acetaminophen, the active ingredient of Tylenol, diphenhydramine (the antihistamine found in Benadryl), fluoxetine (the active antidepressant ingredient in Prozac), arsenic, and caffeine.
Caffeine is always an eye-opener, but to think that the chicken on your plate was consuming it (apparently it is used to keep the chickens awake longer so they will eat more and fatten up for slaughter) is a disturbing thought. There doesn’t seem to be any data available on the amounts of these substances found or as to what, if any, threat they pose to humans. As far as antibiotic use, however, I did find this quote from a recent CBS news story: “We think the science is very solid in showing that largely indiscriminate use of antibiotics contributes to resistance,” said FDA Deputy Commissioner MichaeI Taylor. “I don’t think there’s really any question about it.”
The upshot of last week’s FDA announcement is that they are voluntarily requesting that livestock producers gradually pull back on the use of antibiotics identified as significant in the treatment of human diseases and that they are asking drug manufacturers to voluntarily change package labels to reflect a recommendation that antibiotics be used to treat or prevent disease rather than to boost production. My fervent hope is that the IRS will follow the FDA’s polite lead and allow us all to voluntarily decide whether or not we would like to continue paying taxes…
Our girls, by the way, are antibiotic-free, but I’ve promised them a long life free of stew pots and meat cleavers, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for your unadulterated entrees. There are sources for purportedly pure poultry if you check around, including this one in southern California.