It turns out that arsenic has routinely been fed to poultry (and sometimes hogs) because it reduces infections and makes flesh an appetizing shade of pink. There’s no evidence that such low levels of arsenic harm either chickens or the people eating them, but still...Arsenic in our chicken - Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times
Big Ag doesn’t advertise the chemicals it stuffs into animals, so the scientists conducting these studies figured out a clever way to detect them. Bird feathers, like human fingernails, accumulate chemicals and drugs that an animal is exposed to. So scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Arizona State University examined feather meal — a poultry byproduct made of feathers.
One study, just published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Environmental Science & Technology, found that feather meal routinely contained a banned class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. These antibiotics (such as Cipro), 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.
The same study also found that one-third of feather-meal samples contained an antihistamine that is the active ingredient of Benadryl. The great majority of feather meal contained acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. And feather-meal samples from China contained an antidepressant that is the active ingredient in Prozac.
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?)
The other peer-reviewed study, reported in a journal called Science of the Total Environment, found arsenic in every sample of feather meal tested. Almost 9 in 10 broiler chickens in the United States had been fed arsenic, according to a 2011 industry estimate.
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.
What does all this mean for consumers? The study looked only at feathers, not meat, so we don’t know exactly what chemicals reach the plate, or at what levels. The uncertainties are enormous, but I asked Nachman about the food he buys for his own family. “I’ve been studying food-animal production for some time, and the more I study, the more I’m drawn to organic,” he said. “We buy organic.”
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.
To me, this underscores the pitfalls of industrial farming. When I was growing up on our hopelessly inefficient family farm, we didn’t routinely drug animals. If our chickens grew anxious, the reason was perhaps a fox — and we never tried to resolve the problem with Benadryl.
One of the most quoted lines from Eric Schlosser’s now famous book, Fast Food Nation, comes from the chapter about pathogens in ground beef. Without mincing words, he wrote: “There is shit in the meat.”Industrial poultry about to get even crappier — literally (Grist)
Well, that phrase may be relevant again if the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) moves forward with plans to privatize part of its meat and poultry inspection program.
Under the current rules, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for inspecting all chicken and turkey carcasses for things like bruises, bile, and yes, shit, before they’re sent for further processing. The proposed HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) would remove those USDA inspectors from the lines, leaving poultry plant employees, who already stand in a fast-moving, I-Love-Lucy-style line, to flag unsanitary or otherwise flawed birds.
USDA inspectors now are responsible for 35 birds per minute, but if HIMP moves ahead, lines could move more than 200 birds per minute, according to the advocacy group Food and Water Watch. “We only have a bit over a second and a half to inspect the carcass, which is too fast,” said Steven Clarke, a federal inspector for 26 years, on the advocacy site Let Them Eat Chicken.
Clarke describes the shift as “ plain and simply a job cutting measure.” And in the end, cutting jobs means cutting dollars. In an article from early March, Food Safety News dug up a study [PDF] showing the program is projected to save FSIS up to $95 million over three years, and to give a $250 million boost to poultry companies.
In an analysis of a HIMP pilot program, Food and Water Watch found that rushed poultry plant inspectors allowed a shocking number of problems through, including defective and unsanitary birds.
McDonald's confirmed that it has eliminated the use of ammonium hydroxide — an ingredient in fertilizers, household cleaners and some roll-your-own explosives — in its hamburger meat.McDonald's drops use of gooey ammonia-based 'pink slime' in hamburger meat (MSNBC)
The company denied that its decision was influenced by a months-long campaign by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to get ammonium-hydroxide-treated meats like chicken and beef out of the U.S. food supply. But it acknowledged this week that it had stopped using the unappetizing pink goo — made from treating otherwise inedible scrap meat with the chemical — several months ago.
Besides being used as a household cleaner and in fertilizers, the compound releases flammable vapors, and with the addition of certain acids, it can be turned into ammonium nitrate, a common component in homemade bombs. It's also widely used in the food industry as an anti-microbial agent in meats and as a leavener in bread and cake products. It's regulated by the U.S. Agriculture Department, which classifies it as "generally recognized as safe."
BPA is FDA's Latest Gift to Food Industry (Treehugger)In a long-awaited decision, last week the Food and Drug Administration disappointed health advocates once again by allowing Bisphenol A or BPA, a known endocrine disruptor, to remain approved as a chemical additive in food containers such as plastic bottles and metal cans.While the agency says it’s still studying the matter, a number of groups say the science is clear enough.
Indeed, in the four years since the filing of a legal petition asking for a ban (a court order was needed to force FDA to respond), evidence of potential harm from BPA exposure has only increased. Of particular concern are young children, as the chemical often lines instant formula containers and baby bottles. Ironically, some of the more alarming research is funded by the federal government. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is spending $30 million to study BPA, with much of it published already and more to come. Not surprisingly, the chemical industry claims the additive is perfectly safe.
But with the scientific studies piling up to show how BPA increases the risk of everything from cancer to heart disease to fertility problems, and more recently, even web pages with helpful information for parents and others wishing to avoid BPA, such as: “What You Can Do to Minimize Your Infant’s Exposure to BPA.”
So if FDA admits the chemical is scary enough to avoid and previous independent scientific advisory panels have derided the agency for ignoring the mounting evidence, why did the agency back down yet again?
What pink slime represents is an open admission by the food industry that it is hard-pressed to produce meat that won’t make you sick. Because, I hate to break it to you folks, but ammonium hydroxide is just one in a long list of unlabeled chemical treatments used on almost all industrial meat and poultry.‘Pink slime’ is the tip of the iceberg: Look what else is in industrial meat (Grist)
Helena Bottemiller of Food Safety News dug up this United Stated Department of Agriculture document [PDF], which lists dozens of chemicals that processors can apply to meat without any labeling requirement. Things like calcium hypochlorite (also used to bleach cotton and clean swimming pools), hypobromous acid (also used as a germicide in hot tubs), DBDMH (or 1,3-dibromo-5,5-dimethylhydantoin, which is also used in water treatment), and chlorine dioxide (also used to bleach wood pulp), to name just a few.
All these chemicals can go on meat. Not that you’d know it, because both the industry and the USDA keep it on the down-low. In fact, they work together on this. The USDA requires processors to label certain approved antimicrobials, such as salt, spices, and even lemon as ingredients, but not their hard-to-pronounce brethren. Why not? Perhaps because it might shock and disgust consumers to know how thoroughly their meat must be chemically disinfected before it can be sold. USDA’s head of food safety Elizabeth Hagen told Bottemiller recently that, “Just being honest, I don’t think your average consumer probably knows a lot about how food is produced.” She’s right. We don’t know the half of it — and the more we find out, the angrier many of us get.
Arsenic? Ammonia? Benadryl? Bisephanol-A? Chlorine? Germicides? Bleach? Prozac? Feces? Are you fucking kidding me???!!!
P.S. Just as a reminder, buying raw milk, even directly from a farmer, is illegal.
Matt Yglesias chimes in: I don't have a well-founded opinion on the outsourcing aspects of proposed revisions to how the US Department of Agriculture inspects chickens for safety purposes that lead the article, but this seems like obviously bad news: "The inspectors also said the Agriculture Department proposal allows poultry plants to speed up their assembly lines to about 200 birds per minute from 140, hampering any effort to examine birds for defects."
That is a gigantic increase—over forty percent—in the speed with which chickens are now going to be inspected. I guess it's possible that this won't compromise safety, but it'd be pretty hard to persuade me. Is there some particular crisis that's prompting us to want faster-processed, somewhat less safe chickens? It seems to me that as time goes on and America gets richer, we should become more willing to bear the costs involved in thorough inspections, not less.
And see this: Ammonia used in many foods, not just "pink slime" (NewsDaily)