Birds of a feather, toxic together

If chicken is a regular part of your diet, that might mean that arsenic is too… along with a number of other ingredients not listed in the fine print.

If you are buying mass produced chicken, then it is a good idea to find out what the chicken you are eating, has been eating…

What’s in chicken meal?

  • Farmers mostly don’t know as meal formulas are proprietary.
  • Most chicken feed contains drugs (including antibiotics) which help the chickens to grow quickly and to minimize risk of infection.
  • Because these drugs are administered through food, the dose given is not precise.
  • Legal restrictions on how feed is used preclude direct testing of feed ingredients.
  • However scientists are able to test the feathers of chickens, which, like human hair, accumulate the chemicals and drugs in their diet.

What the studies show
Studies of chicken feather meal and chickens have revealed the following substances in the chicken diet:

  • arsenicRosarxone and Histostat are arsenic-based drugs given to kill parasites, accelerate growth and give meat a pink colour; the carcinogenic arsenic residue of this drug is found in chicken livers and feather meal
  • fluorophinolones – this is a class of antibiotics which is illegal for use in poultry because they can breed antibiotic resistance in humans
  • caffeine – this is given to keep the bird awake so that they will eat more
  • paracetamol – a common pain killer, for anxiety
  • diphenhydramine – a kind of antihistamine, also for anxiety
  • prozac – some samples from China included this antidepressant which, if you were a Chinese chicken, was probably welcome relief.

So why do I care what they find in chicken feathers?
Chicken feathers get fed back to chickens. Yes. They are turned into meal and fed back to chickens raised for meat. In this way toxins which accumulate in feathers may get into the food of chickens destined for human consumption.

To minimize exposure to these toxins, at a minimum, avoid chicken livers from non-organic birds. If chicken is a large part of your diet you may want to supplement with other meats or organic sources. Or maybe just cut back on meat altogether.

Note that there are no known incidents of toxicity from exposure to these substances through chicken meat. However there is a recognized potential for the development of drug resistant infections from continued exposure to antibiotics. Multi-drug resistant “superbugs” are on the rise and kill hundreds of thousands of people every year.

a verterinary drug that contains arsenic


The Cost of Eating Well

“Everyone wants to eat like an American on this globe,” said Daniel W. Basse of the AgResource Company, a Chicago consultancy. “But if they do, we’re going to need another two or three globes to grow it all.”
      – A Global Need for Grain That Farms Can’t Fill


What does it cost to eat meat?

We all know that commodity prices have been rising rapidly and it is starting to bite (sorry) at the checkout counter.

Here in Asia, this is causing a bit of a rice shortage as consumers stockpile and horde in anticipation of further increases to come.

Surprisingly, the BBC reports that the rising cost of grain and transportation does not yet appear to have fed through (sorry – I did it again) to meat prices:

Food Prices

But there are other costs of eating meat.

One of the dilemmas I have as an omnivore is that there is no denying the environmental cost of eating meat is huge compared to that of eating grains. There is more land use, more water consumption and, at present population levels, the intensive farming used to meet rising demand comes with massive problems of deforestation and waste.

We are increasingly told that to share the earth’s resources in a fair and sustainable fashion, we all need to become vegetarians. And it’s not just the greens that are calling for elimination of meat. Even governments are starting to voice this message.

Certainly if I felt my health would not be adversely affected, I would happily follow this advice. But this is not just about taking some extra time to separate out my recyclable waste. I believe this threatens the well being of myself and those around me.

Although there is evidence that some meat in the diet actually optimizes land use, this vague proposal would limit meat consumption to 2 ounces a day which falls well short of needs for optimal nutrition.

The Future is Here

Our collective vision of the Malthusian future, in which the planet is burdened by overpopulation, is painted in images of starving children with bloated bellies, listless as the flies of death descend upon them.

But the fact that we have reached a point where the earth can no longer provide all humans with the diet they are most suited to means that over population is not some point down the road. It has arrived and we are suffering now. We just can’t see it for what it is.

I don’t doubt that there is a tradgedy of the commons that is taking place on a global scale. So perhaps the “right” thing to do is to make the individual sacrifice and be as green as possible.

However personal sacrifices by a fringe minority do not solve global issues. Global issues need systematic and global solutions. Without a mass movement – something almost impossible without legislation – such efforts are sentimental and ineffective.

We’re backed into this corner because economists can value quantity but not quality and we still haven’t escaped from this mind set.

We may have some room to go to maximize the quantity of human lives, but clearly we can see the quality of those lives has been, in many ways, on a long term decline.

There is no getting around the fact that eating meating has its costs.

But the burdens of accomodating a bloated planet growing ever more bloated on a grain based diet are arguably costlier in the long run.


Tangential Reading


Will the humble butcher survive?

The Farm Bill Makes You Fat

OK so Michael Pollan is saying it again over at the New York Times. But I can keep reading it.

Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill.