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

buffalo wings."

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."

Technology Overload

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

skin pores.


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

consecutive rinses.

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

Sunday dinner."

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).