What's In Your Chicken? Canadian Investigation Suggests That You Might Not Want That Kiev For Dinner

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ELSTORF, GERMANY - JANUARY 07: Chickens sit in a barn at an organic-accredited poultry farm on January 7, 2011 in Elstorf, Germany. Organic farmers across Germany are likely to benefit from the current dioxin scandal that is forcing at least 4,000 non-organic poultry, hog and other farms nationwide to suspend deliveries for the time being. Authorities suspect the north German firm Harles and Jentsch of supplying up to 3,000 tonnes of dioxin-tainted fatty proteins to 25 animal feeds producers. Though so far the majority of farms affected are in the state of Lower Saxony, the scope of possible contamination is spreading and now includes 11 German states.  (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images)

Today, the CBC -- Canada's public broadcaster -- released a report that indicates that the chickens that Canadians are buying at their local supermarkets are very probably chock-full of not-so-delicious superbugs. Is it too alarmist of me to say that this freaking horrifies me?

We actually don't really eat that much chicken in our household, and on the rare occasion that we do buy poultry we get from a local butcher who sells locally-sourced product. But my horror at this story has less to do with concern about what terrible things I might unintentionally be forcing my children to ingest, and more with what this tells us about the larger food industrial complex that's at work in North America. (Yes, I've seen Food, Inc. No, that doesn't stop me from being shocked and appalled every time a story like this one hits the wires.)

Here's the full lede from the CBC story:

Marketplace (a consumer news show produced by CBC) researchers — along with their colleagues at Radio-Canada's food show L'Epicerie -- bought 100 samples of chicken from major grocery chains in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

The chicken included some of the most familiar label names in the poultry business.

The 100 samples were sent to a lab for analysis. Two-thirds of the chicken samples had bacteria. That in itself is not unusual -- E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter are often present in raw chicken.

What was surprising was that all of the bacteria uncovered during the Marketplace sampling were resistant to at least one antibiotic. Some of the bacteria found were resistant to six, seven or even eight different types of antibiotics.

"This is the most worrisome study I've seen of its kind," said Rick Smith, the head of Environmental Defence, a consumer advocacy group.

Worrisome indeed.

The story goes on to explain that the antibiotic-resistance of the bacteria -- superbugs! -- found on the chicken is likely do to overuse of antibiotics in chicken production. According to the online story, "doctors and scientists told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson that chicken farmers are overusing antibiotics -- routinely giving healthy flocks doses of amoxicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin and ceftiofur to prevent disease and to make the chickens grow bigger, faster." Super chickens!

Industry representatives, of course, say that this just isn't true. They insist that their use of antibiotics on chickens is 'judicious.' But what does that actually mean? They're making judgments on how much antibiotic to give chickens based in large part on business concerns -- 'judicious' is almost certainly defined in part here as 'taking into consideration our need grow bigger chickens, faster.' So, yes, this is worrisome. It's a troubling practice in a highly-regulated industry. What other highly-regulated foodstuffs are being produced in such troubling ways? And why is it that it takes a consumer news show to find out about this stuff? According to CBC, "the (Canadian) federal government doesn't track antibiotic use by farmers, and, unlike in Europe, there are no limits on the use of antibiotics in the feed and water given to chickens." Who is looking after the public interest here?

Oh, and before you say, just eat organic, the CBC says nuh-uh: Apparently, their investigation turned up some troubling conclusions about organic chicken, too. So much for my locavore bubble of protection. I'm almost afraid to watch the full story tonight.

Is it time for us to become a family of vegetarians? But then what happens when the CBC blows the lid off the turnip industry? I'm not joking. It really might be time for me to grab my children and go right off the grid.

Catherine Connors blogs at Her Bad Mother and Their Bad Mother and The Bad Moms Club, and everywhere in between. When she's not not feeding them chicken, she sometimes lets her kids dress her.


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