They Put WHAT in My Chicken?

Health & Wellness on 04.09.12
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Image: via Wattpublishing/CC BY 2.0

After a British girl collapsed on an all-chicken nugget diet, we looked at the chemicals in chicken nuggets. While not a pretty picture, we advised that these food additives are not usually of such high concern that parents need to enforce a nugget ban.

Do we have to eat our words? Will our words be healthier than those chicken nuggets? In a New York Times column, Nicholas D. Kristoff reveals that scientists have found arsenic and drugs in chickens. Not even the usual growth hormones and antibiotics that we have come to expect, but more stuff that leaves you thinking, "WHAT?!?"

Kristoff discusses two studies which found chemicals and drugs you would never suspect in the chicken you feed your family as the "healthy" alternative to other meats:

  • arsenic;
  • the active antihistamine ingredient in the allergy drug benadryl;
  • acetaminophen which you may know as tylenol;
  • the active ingredient in the antidepressent Prozac in chickens;
  • illegal antibiotics, suspected of contributing to the evolution of superbugs;
  • even caffeine, suspected of promoting growth by keeping chickens awake and eating, was found.

Arsenic in chicken feed has been reported for years, as a government-approved chicken food additive. At the time of the original reports, big hitters Tyson and McDonald's went on record as requiring their suppliers to provide arsenic-free chicken. It could not be determined whether both still adhere to this policy.

As usual, there is no scientific proof that the small quantities of these drugs and chemicals in the food supply actually cause harm to humans. There is, of course, little proof that the practices are completely safe, other than the fact that we are all eating this stuff and -- with the exception of a few niggling upward trends in disease attributed to environmental factors -- we all seem to survive.

We should note that these studies analyzed chicken feathers, which accumulate the contaminants in chicken feed over time. They did not give any meaningful measurement of the amount of the chemicals and drugs in the food we eat.

More Disturbing

Perhaps even more concerning than the studies finding residuals of such strange chemicals in chickens is the explanation: chicken farmers are required to use feed supplied by mega-corporations without even knowing what that chicken feed contains. We are once again at the mercy of faceless conglomerates, unable to put our trust in the local farmer to do what they know best for our precious food supply.

Apparently the agricultural literature recommends using the antihistamine in Benadryl to reduce stress in chickens (which Kristoff wryly notes the over-caffeinated birds may well need). Prozac, which was found in poultry supplied from China, presumably performs the same function.

Should You Feed Your Family Chicken Now?

Chicken remains a healthy source of meat proteins, so even if you cannot afford to buy only high-end organic chickens you should not eliminate this healthy options from your meal plans. (Plus, the stuff in pork or beef or any other product of the industrial food chain may be equally questionable.)

The best defense: keep your family's diet varied. Keeping chicken nugget consumption low remains a no-brainer; now the advice extends to healthy chicken breasts as well. Eat chicken at most once a day, better only a couple times a week, mixing it up with a few vegetarian meals and other meats. This will keep intake of the suspicious chemicals at low levels, and allow your body time to clean itself out before the next chicken meal.

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