Health & Fitness

How Healthy is That “100% Natural” Chicken You’re Eating?

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You might be getting more than you bargained for when you sit down for a chicken dinner.

It may be easy to believe that chicken is a healthy food option, particularly when companies like Sanderson Farms sell their chicken with claims like “100% Natural” and “The only thing in our chicken, is chicken.” But, the company might need to rethink these claims now that they’ve been slapped with a lawsuit by three non-profit organizations: Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety.

According to the three organizations, independent government tests reveal that Sanderson’s chicken contains antibiotics used for humans, veterinary antibiotics, hormones, steroids, pesticides and pharmaceutical drugs. One-third of Sanderson’s chicken tested contained residues of these substances, including chemicals like the antibiotic chloramphenicol, melengesterol acetate—a hormone used to artificially increase growth in animals, and the immune-suppressant drug prednisone.

According to the plaintiffs “The presence of these chemicals in the Sanderson samples indicates that drugs and other chemicals were used in the raising and/or harvesting of Sanderson’s chickens.” They also state that “Sanderson’s ‘100% Natural’ marketing and advertising scheme falsely and misleadingly suggests that 1) consumers are ingesting nothing but chicken, and certainly no synthetic drugs or chemicals; 2) no antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals are employed in the raising or slaughtering of Sanderson’s chickens; and 3) the chickens who wind up in the chicken products are raised in natural conditions.”

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) routinely inspects chicken products in the US. Between 2015 and 2016, 49 samples of Sanderson chicken revealed residues of pesticides, antibiotics and other chemical substances, including excessive levels of the antibiotics chloramphenicol, the long-term use of which has been linked to leukemia, as well as ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, sulfadiazine and sulfamethizole.

Factory farms have been mis-prescribing and misusing human and veterinary antibiotics for some time. Some experts estimate that approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States (over 34 million pounds of antibiotics annually) go to huge factory farm operations. As a result, many farms have become giant petri dishes for the growth of superbugs and antibiotic resistance infections, particularly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. Superbugs are estimated to kill approximately 99,000 Americans every year—more than double the number of people who die in car accidents.

Infectious bacteria are not the brainless idiots we assume them to be. While they may not have any grey matter, they have learned to outsmart antibiotics in multiple ways: 1) through the transmission of resistance information via DNA, 2) using “jumping genes” that release resistance information into the environment where other bacteria can pick them up, and 3) using viruses that make copies of resistance information in genetic material and then spread this information to other bacteria. As we are increasingly discovering, bacteria seem to have better communications infrastructure than we humans do.

Factory farms of all kinds need to be stopped from their widespread use and abuse of antibiotics. Additionally, those farms that claim their products are “100% natural” need to be held accountable as such. It’s not acceptable to use false advertising or bait and switch practices to increase profits at the potential expense of human health. And, considering that chicken is big business in the US (to the tune of $90 Billion), that’s a lot of potential chicken wreaking havoc on our health.

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