Chicken is Bad for Your Health
by Michael Worsham
Last month's excellent Touchstone article by Mark
O'Connor about Sanderson Farms convincingly illustrated
why the B-CS community is better off without a new
chicken plant. This article should add to the economic,
environmental and labor arguments against a plant, and
hopefully, convince readers not to eat chicken,
regardless of where it comes from.
WARNING: Do not read past this point while eating.
In 1991 the Atlanta Constitution did a special report on
the poultry industry. Of 84 federal poultry inspectors
interviewed, 81 said that thousands of birds tainted or
stained with feces which a decade ago would have been
condemned, are now rinsed and sold daily. Seventy-five
of the inspectors said that thousands of diseased birds
pass from processing lines to stores every day.
Poultry plants often salvage meat, cutting away visibly
diseased or contaminated sections, and selling the rest
as packaged wings, legs or breasts, said 70 inspectors.
Richard Simmons, 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 just listen to USDA Inspector Ronnie Sarratt: "I've
had birds that had yellow pus visibly coming out of
their insides, and I was told to save the breast meat
off them and even save the second joint of the wing. You
might get those breasts today at a store in a package of
breast fillets. And you might get the other in a pack of
Previously, inspectors used to condemn all birds with
air sacculitus, a disease that causes yellow fluids and
mucus to break up into the lungs. In an 1989 article in
Southern Exposure, USDA inspector Estes Philpott of
Arkansas estimated that he was forced to approve 40
percent of air sac birds that would have been condemned
10 years ago.
Pat Godfrey, an inspector at Tyson's Springdale,
Arkansas plant says: "Would you want to go out to a
pasture with a chicken, cut him up, then drop him into a
fresh manure pile and eat him? That's what the product
is like coming from chicken plants today."
The technological revolution in the poultry industry
reduces human beings to a cog in an a ruthless killing
machine. It also increases contamination. One example is
eviscerating machines. Mechanical eviscerating machines
are supposed to rip intestines from the carcasses, but
often rip them open and spill feces all over the body
cavity. This is partly due to the machine speed, run
from 70 to 90 birds per minute. This is nearly three
times faster than a decade ago.
Contamination is also increased by technological
developments like feather pickers. These machines have
rubber "fingers" designed to pound off feathers.
Unfortunately, they also pound dirt and manure into the
Salmonella contamination has steadily increased from an
official rate of 29% of all USDA-approved broilers in
1967 to 37% in 1979. USDA eventually stopped reporting
the levels. Some surveys revealed contamination levels
at some plants of 60 percent. Dr. Douglas Archer, FDA
Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition has
identified some of the source: "There's no question that
the extent of the salmonella contamination is due to the
way the chickens are raised, the crowding and stress."
Then there is "fecal soup." Thousands of dirty chickens
are bathed together in a chill tank, creating a mixture
known as fecal soup that spreads contamination from bird
to bird. Consumers pay for this fecal soup when they buy
chicken, since up to 15% of poultry weight consists of
fecal soup. USDA released a study in 1988 that conceded
that washing does not adequately remove salmonella germs
left behind by fecal contamination, even after 40
One critic complained, "It's not fair to expect
consumers to behave as if they're decontaminating Three
Mile Island when all they want to do is cook their
Cruelty to Spare
The disregard for plant workers and growers detailed in
the last issue of The Touchstone is a natural outgrowth
of the chicken plant mentality: it is no coincidence
that the system that treats one form of living beings
(chickens) so grossly inhumane also treats humans so
callously. Whistleblowers describe the work as modern
Since employees are not always allowed to leave the line
to go to the bathroom, they sometimes go on the floor.
Chickens that fall in the urine and excrement are
routinely picked up and returned to the line. According
to inspectors, at one Southern poultry plant the
management would not stop the line after a pregnant
woman vomited on it.
Poultry plants also use chlorine to wash chickens. One
company used up to 70% chlorine to bleach feces it
refused to remove from the carcasses. The heavy fumes
from the solutions caused workers' eyes to water, skin
to peel from their hands, and the development of lung
problems, chronic headaches and sore throats.
For the birds, although their ultimate fate at a
slaughterhouse is preordained, their short "life" while
alive is nothing short of hell. Chickens bleed, hurt and
cry just like other creatures.
Imagine a 42-day-old skeleton being forced to carry an
84-day-old body weight. According to Paul Miler, D.V.M.,
Georgia Poultry Diagnostic Laboratory, "Broilers are
born to die, they stress so easily. The chickens today
have a lot of health problems because they were forced
to grow too fast. You'll never get anyone to admit it,
but the reason they have leg problems is because their
muscular system is growing much faster than their
skeletons, so they can't support their own weight.
Everyone in the industry knows this for a fact, but no
one talks about it."
This cruelty occurs simply because to date, there are no
federal welfare laws governing the raising, transport,
or slaughter of chickens in the U.S. The 7.5 billion
birds slaughtered each year in the U.S. (30 million per
day) are excluded from the federal Humane Methods of
Slaughter Act of 1958. A bill has been introduced in
Congress to address this, H.R. 264, the Humane Methods
of Poultry Slaughter Act of 1995.
Everybody in the car for some Chicken McNuggets! The
only sensible choice is to stop eating chicken. The
typical American diet includes too much protein, fat,
and cholesterol anyway. The USDA, like all too many
(most) federal regulatory agencies, is in bed with
industry. Chicken is not going to be safe to eat anytime
soon, if ever. If you need further convincing, consider
the unhesitating condemnation of chicken by former
supervisor of U.S. Poultry inspection Rodney Leonard: "I
don't eat chicken anymore. I won't eat it. I won't allow
it in my house."
Also note that in addition to being a health hazard when
eaten, chicken production stresses the environment: it
takes 815 gallons of water to produce a pound of edible
chicken, versus 23 to 33 gallons per pound of tomatoes,
lettuce, potatoes, wheat and carrots.
In the last few years there has been an explosion of new
vegetarian foods appearing in natural food stores. Some
items are now even in some mainstream supermarkets. Seek
them out! You will help yourself, the suffering workers
in the filthy and dangerous slaughterhouses, the
environment, and of course, the billions of chickens who
have a role and purpose in life on this planet other
than just to be another (unhealthy) menu item.
1) "The Fox Guarding the Hen House", Tom Devine,
Southern Exposure (Summer 1989), pp. 39-42.
2) "Realities For The 90's", EarthSave Foundation.
3) "Chicken: How safe?", Atlanta Constitution (May 26,
4) Karen Davis, President, United Poultry Concerns,
letter to "48 Hours," January 14, 1994.
5) Poultry Press, 5,1 (Winter/Spring 1995), p. 3.
6) VIVA VINE, newsletter of the Viva Vegie Society, by
Pamela Teisler, undated (circa 1994).