Who’s guarding the henhouse?
In contrast to the USDA grading standards for beef that I mentioned last week, the grading standards for poultry are much different.
The standards are concerned primarily with the appearance of the carcass, such as whether or not there are any visible cuts, bruises or broken bones, rather than meat quality or tenderness.
The grading and inspection process is a totally voluntary one for which the producers must pay to have USDA graders. Large processing plants have their own inspectors who are trained and approved by the USDA. In essence, the producers are actually grading their chickens themselves.
Most commercial poultry is raised in large flocks, sometimes numbering 20,000 to 100,000 birds, which can be very unhealthy. This is usually done in large sheds on a concrete floor covered with shavings.
Chickens, whether broilers or fryers, are raised in large numbers and severely crowded conditions and are fed antibiotics from day one to control disease and speed up growth with less feed.
Broilers are usually slaughtered at 7-8 weeks, and fryers from 4-7 weeks. In other words, these are young chickens and consequently most tender.
Stewing hens are typically old laying hens. Being older they are much tougher and hence must be stewed, or cooked for a long time. These are considered the tastier chickens for soup; hence when you buy prepared chicken soup, it is usually from stewing hens.
Recently, I learned the USDA not too long ago approved the sale of meat from animals and poultry that have tumors, pus, sores and scabs.
And the reason stated for this allowance is that these animal diseases are not transmitted to humans. Yet, anyway: Haven’t we learned a lesson from the fact that the AIDS virus jumped from animals to people? And even more recently that monkeypox virus did the same?
Nevertheless, even if this is only a matter of repugnance, do you want to eat that kind of food?
I first read about this problem in a report published in “Restaurant News” in 1970, entitled “USDA May Give O.K. to Tumored Chicken.”
The concern then was that the virus involved in causing disease, called the “leukosis virus” or myeloid leukosis, might cause leukemia in humans. This proved not to be true.
However, the immediate problem for the growers was that the disease caused repugnant-looking skin lesions. According to the report, the panel of government scientists recommended the tumors or lesions could be “cut out” and the remainder of the bird sold as “cut-up chicken.”
And further, the recommendation went on to say “the tumerous portion could be ground into hot dogs.”
This article did not mention if indeed the industry followed through with this recommendation, but I write this to illustrate my point that perhaps we put too much trust in the FDA to protect us.
Researcher Michael Worsham writes, “Poultry plants often salvage meat, cutting away visibly diseased or contaminated sections, and selling the rest as packaged wings, legs or breasts, according to 70 inspectors.”
Richard Simmons, an inspector at a ConAgra plant said, “Practically every bird now, no matter how bad, is salvaged. This meat is not wholesome. I would not want to eat it. I would never, in my wildest dreams, buy cut-up parts at a store today.”
And all this while you thought that the chicken was cut up as a convenience to you?
If there is any question about the veracity and accuracy of these data, I suggest that you write me and I will gladly send my references or you may find them all in my latest book “The Second Dilemma.”
A more recent development is the arrival of an even more serious poultry disease, avian leukosis virus (ALV-J) that can cause all sorts of ills in poultry, including respiratory disease, tumors of the bones, liver, spleen and kidneys, and increased mortality. So serious is this disease that it is threatening virtually all breeding flocks in the U.S.
Over the past 10 years, published reports have found problems with bacterial contamination in poultry as well.
Finally, let me say that I’m not totally naive to believe that these products can be raised and sold to you as economically as they are without some tricks of the trade. Nevertheless, as consumers we must be diligent in our search for quality food for our families.
I hope that we’ve given you sufficient information about meat and poultry in this and previous columns without turning you off to these potentially good sources of food.
There are many local farmers who either already raise animals to your specifications or who would be more than glad to if you will search them out.
Furthermore, local supermarkets sell organic products, and if you don’t find what you’re looking for do like I do and ask the manager to carry those items. They will likely be glad to accommodate you. After all they are in business to sell products. That’s what “free enterprise” is all about.
And if the stores see a trend toward certain products, be assured, they will carry them.
If you are a farmer who raises organic meats and would like to be connected with interested consumers, contact me and I will pass your name along.
Next week I’ll discuss the more than 14,000 additives in our foods.
Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes investigative reporting. He is working on a fourth book, “The Doctor Prescribes Yoga.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.