Arsenic and old poultry  APR 05 2012

Nicholas Kristof on factory farmed chicken...farmers load the birds up with caffeine, Tylenol, Benadryl, Prozac, and arsenic. Yes, arsenic. The poison.

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?)

And yet foie gras is the big problem. Right. Sadly, I imagine that hogs aren't treated any differently.

Update: The National Chicken Council has released a statement about this study.

Chickens in the United States produced for meat are not given "arsenic" as an additive in chicken feed, or any of the other compounds mentioned in this study. Some flocks used to be given feed that contained a product called Roxarsone, which is a molecule that includes organic (carbon-rich, pentavalent) arsenic - not the inorganic, trivalent form that is considered a poison. This product was removed from the market last year, it is no longer manufactured and it is no longer used in raising chickens in the United States. Regardless, as the study's authors point out: "There's no evidence that such low levels of arsenic harm either chickens or the people eating them."

In fact, organic arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our environment that is widely distributed within the earth's crust. It is not surprising that in this study arsenic was detected on bird's feathers because it is naturally present in the air, soil and water.

I'll just quickly note a couple of things about this. This bit -- "the top priority for America's chicken farmers and processors is to raise healthy, top quality birds" -- is pretty hilarious. But it's the National Chicken Council...what are they gonna say? Also note they did not specifically deny giving chickens caffeine and the active ingredients in Prozac, Tylenol, and Benadryl.

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