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chicken

Sometimes there just aren't enough rocks

Why is it that the poultry industry tends to re-arm it’s antagonists with more rocks?

Forrest Gump, from the 1994 movie of the same name: Jenny, Forrest’s life-long love since grade school and dying from a non-identified virus, has returned to her old and abandoned home where she was sexually abused by her father. In anger, she throws rocks at the house, breaking windows until there are no rocks left and she collapses.

Some windows remain unbroken. Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.

It seems, at times, as though someone or some group is always throwing rocks at the chicken industry, and just when it seems there aren’t any more stones to throw, the industry does its best to re-arm it’s antagonists with more rocks.

Like labels that say “Raised without Hormones” that create confusion amongst consumers.

Like labels that say “Raised without Antibiotics” when gentamycin is injected into eggs so the soon-to-be born chick will have antibiotics on board when hatched.

Like labels that say “Raised without Antibiotics’ when an antibiotic called an ionophore is used to prevent coccidiosis.

Foster Farms armed the attackers with its West Coast outbreak of salmonella, whose headlines quickly mutated into “Multi-Drug Resistant Salmonella” with seemingly increased risk to the American public, even though the list of antibiotics this particular strain was resistant to were not important in the treatment of the infected persons.

A lot of rocks were thrown during this outbreak.

Costco just recently slaughtered its first chickens in its brand new plant in Nebraska. The headlines in the Omaha World Herald announced the opening with the caveat “but concerns remain regarding air and water pollution.”

More rocks. Same in Milwaukee this month, except there they refused to let a chicken company expand and create jobs.

The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tried to inject its slanted views on the DelMarva Peninsula several years ago, claiming living near large animal confinement operations (chicken when focusing on DelMarva) could lead to MRSA and Q fever in humans.

The National Chicken Council asked me to chime in on that one. It was easy.

Q Fever is associated with goat farming. Maybe 100 cases per year are reported, and most are in veterinarians and goat farmers.  You can only catch this one from a mammal. Chickens may have breasts, but not the kind of breast associated with mammals.

MRSA in animals is not related to MRSA in humans, a serious illness usually acquired in health care facilities, yet the academics threw rocks at a proposed chicken farm that would replace a dairy farm.

So it kind of shocked me when I read an article in Meatingplace defending water chilled chicken over air chilled chicken, where a quote from Christine Alvarado, a distinguished and nationally recognized expert in the poultry industry, seemed to provide more targets for the rock throwers.

“I think consumers just don’t understand what that water pickup means.”

I think we do.

Soaking for four hours in icy water loaded with chlorine, bobbing along with hundreds of other carcasses, spreading bacteria from one carcass to hundreds, conjures up a vision of the solution described by many in the Food Safety & Inspection Service as “fecal soup.”

A study done at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, showed that air cooled chicken had 80% less bacteria.

Alvarado says that, “We pick up 1% or 2% of water mostly in the skin or in the folds of the chicken….”

My package of chicken breasts in my refrigerator says, “contains less than 6% water.”

Where did the other 4-5% come from?

“People have a perception that we’re injecting poultry carcasses with water….”

Yep, it’s called “Plumping.”

It’s been going on since the 1970s to make the meat look plumper or to satisfy a large purchaser of your product with a breast that weighs exactly 8 oz. or some other designated amount.

How does that process fall under the “All Natural” label?

I can’t answer my own question, but I would suggest that this is just another target for rock throwing that the industry has created by a questionable label.

Water weight can amount to 15% of total weight, and the industry average is 8%.

That is not 1-2%.

Consumers are buying water. They will throw rocks at you when you say they are not.

Alvarado also says “water chilling is more efficient.”

How many billions of gallons of water are being used in areas of the country where drought is the predominant weather change and Where every single drop is important?

And what is the environmental effect of getting rid of that chlorine-laced water?

Air chilled may take a little longer, but I prefer the taste and texture of the product and will pay extra for it. And I am not buying water when I buy air chilled.

Before I moved from Nebraska and went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I knew very little, if anything, about chicken slaughter and processing. I certainly did not know that the requirement was to get the carcass temperature to 40 degrees within four hours of slaughter.

And I did not know you could do that using ice water or frigid air temps.

What I did know was that we preferred chicken labeled MBA Smart Chicken that was slaughtered and processed locally in Tecumseh, Neb.

Cute name. The owner used the first letter of his three kids’ names to come up with MBA.

Only after moving to Washington, D.C., and becoming immersed in meat and poultry safety did I discover that MBA Smart Chicken was air chilled.

An aha moment.

I am not throwing rocks at water chilled. After all, that represents the great majority of chickens we eat in the U.S. I just know what my taste buds like.

I am saying make certain that your statements can be replicated and defended, unlike Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s academics.

If I can point out just one inaccuracy, all the rest of the statement becomes suspect and a target for rocks.

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