Before You Fire Up the Grill This Summer…

Summer has unofficially arrived. For many families, that means backyard barbeques and steaks and hamburgers on the grill. But between pink slime – the beef filler made of extra parts and ammonia that caused a social media firestorm – and the recent mad cow scare in California, many people are understandably queasy about buying beef right now. However, before you switch to chicken as your go-to grilling meat this summer, there’s a few things you should know about bird so many Americans love to eat.

Posted on | Wenonah Hauter | Comments ()

Summer has unofficially arrived. For many families, that means backyard barbeques and steaks and hamburgers on the grill. But between pink slime – the beef filler made of extra parts and ammonia that caused a social media firestorm – and the recent mad cow scare in California, many people are understandably queasy about buying beef right now. However, before you switch to chicken as your go-to grilling meat this summer, there’s a few things you should know about bird so many Americans love to eat.

For decades, arsenic has been fed to chickens to grow more meat in a shorter time and make the meat look pinker. As Dr. Oz viewers know from his extensive analysis of arsenic in apple juice last year, exposure to arsenic has been linked to cancer and cardiovascular disease. After a 3-year fight, the state of Maryland, a leading supplier of industrially grown chicken, recently outlawed feeding a major arsenic-based drug to chickens.

While Maryland’s ban on arsenic in chicken is a significant step toward removing dangerous chemicals from our food supply, we still have a long way to go. New scientific studies found that chickens on factory farms are fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, anti-depressants and banned antibiotics. We shouldn’t have to worry that the contents of a medicine cabinet could be lurking inside the hot wings, chicken strips or drumsticks that we feed our families and ourselves.

As if these findings weren’t worrisome enough, the US Department of Agriculture is considering a proposal to privatize poultry inspection in the name of budget cutting. The savings – 0.000236% of the $3.8 trillion federal budget – doesn’t justify the threat to worker safety and consumer health that faster production lines and less rigorous inspection could bring about.  

The USDA wants to remove up to 800 professional federal food safety inspectors and replace them with company employees. Plus, they want to speed up the inspection lines so about 175 chickens per minute whiz by employees for inspection. It would require superhuman powers to properly inspect chicken at that pace, but the USDA wants to leave the job to employees with no mandatory training. This is a risky proposal for the workers who already suffer from a disproportionate amount of injuries from their dangerous jobs, and it means that more defective, contaminated and diseased chicken could make its way to your grocery meat case.  

My organization analyzed the findings of the USDA’s pilot program for this new inspection system and found that company employees regularly missed many defects in the poultry, including fecal contamination, organ parts, tumors, scabs and bruises. Not exactly appetizing results.

Salmonella already makes an estimated million-plus Americans sick every year and an increase in defective and diseased poultry evading inspection could mean even more bacteria in our kitchens. Our government should be working to make our food supply safer, not riskier. If you agree, join us in telling the White House to drop this proposal and keep chicken safe by signing this petition: http://wh.gov/EAQ

Blog written by Wenonah Hauter
Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. She has worked extensively on energy, food, water and...