Thursday, October 7, 2010

Arsenicized chicken

Thanks to Ann and Dr. Oz for giving me something to talk about today beyond the boring newsletters. I already sent this in a response email so I'm just going to re-post with links. True to my morals on blogging, I have included links to your own enlightenment opportunities. Not that I wouldn't appreciate you taking my word for it, but reading for yourself is always worth the time when you have it.

Please keep in mind, I was unable to watch the Dr. Oz chicken clip because their website isn't loaded up yet from today, but I can take a stab at breaking things down. "Dr." Oz decided to jump on the bandwagon (or his producers did) and talk about food quality and the sticky topic of feed additives for poultry.

Dr. Oz probably spent a lot of time talking about antibiotics in chicken. Poultry association probably confirmed it because it's true. I can't honestly say that I'm really comfortable feeding steady antibiotics to animals because I come from a veterinary medicine standpoint which fears those outbreaks which are unstoppable due to antibiotic resistance. I also recognize that the FDA doesn't have a solid track record in getting things right.

However, they are our governmental food regulation agency for a reason. The best minds are put onto determining what is safe to eat and what isn't. If people are going to complain, then they need to complain to the agency with the authority to change something, and they need to present facts that are worthy of compelling said agency to change its policy. Those facts don't exist right now and no amount of speculation is going to prove that we are getting antibiotic resistance from chickens any more than they can attempt to prove that beef growth hormones or rBST in milk were changing hormones in humans. Hormones aren't delivered in quantities large enough to impact humans at all. It is my opinion that the same is true for antibiotics fed to animals.

Once the antibiotics are processed by the body and put to the uses that they were intended for, biologically speaking, then they are not going to suddenly appear in your dinner plate contents. I think that the abuse of free antibiotics among human doctors and patients is much more concerning and a far greater contribution the antibiotic resistance scheme than that which is absorbed and utilized in the animal while it is still living.

Consumer reports put out this article recently which Dr. Oz probably referenced. I couldn't even make it a paragraph before I was frustrated by the inadequacy of the intelligence applied to this article. I spent 4 years reading everything known to man about "mad cow disease" before it was even a big deal. I predicted the discovery of mad cow disease in the US over a year before it happened due to faults that I saw in our standards. And even I think it is preposterous to attempt to connect the feeding of ruminant MBM to the possibility of "mad chicken" disease. Furthermore, I looked into arsenic just a bit, and it didn't take me long to find an article from Europe about arsenic levels in food. Not surprising, the highest arsenic level by far and the estimated primary cause of arsenic introduced to humans is through rice. Yet how often do we hear consumer reports talk about rice arsenic? Ironically enough, I'm eating rice for lunch as I write this. Notice also that they found no detectable traces of arsenic in the chicken muscle in the first place. This whole article claims that arsenic in chickens is a problem, but they only found arsenic in the liver and it was less than 25% of the legal limit accepted by the FDA. If this lack of finding was blown out of proportion, how much validity do you expect from the antibiotic feed claims?

They also probably claimed mis-labeling of products which I think is something more of the past than now. People are always trying sell product and whatever they can do to make a dime, they will. This includes new labels which can't always be monitored when the label is being started. That being said, I think organic foods are far worse regulated and more unpredictable right now than any standard poultry industry product. The USDA is still sorting through what "organic" will legally even mean yet it's being sold to ignorant consumers every day. We can't throw any part of agriculture under the bus, including organic producers, but the industry concerns about wholesome food and correct labeling and advertising procedures applies to all farmers and producers just like any other industry.

I think that the key is to remember that we started feeding antibiotics to chickens or pigs in order to promote their health. Farmers have both a moral and financial responsibility to provide healthy lives to their animals and wholesome food to their consumers. They are following the regulations set down before them and in most nearly all cases are going above and beyond regulations to ensure a quality product for the public. The antibiotics have not been proven to be bad for the public and since they are helpful to the animals to reduce sickness-related stress and to improve their well-being, why shouldn't we use them?

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