CHICKEN - THE UNHEALTHY OPTION BY DR GINA SHAW
So there I was in the queue in Marks and Spencer, clutching on to my Medjool dates, surrounded by two women piling on ready-made chicken meals for their loved ones. 'How could these mothers feed their children these awful, unhealthy foods?' I thought to myself. 'Don't they care enough about them to at least give them a healthy vegetarian diet?' The trouble is, of course, that the food industry propoganda got there way before I did with their 'But chicken's healthier, it's low in fat, low in cholesterol, it's healthier than beef' they say. Is this True? Not by a long chalk.
Ian Coghill, Vice Chairman of the Environmental Health Office's Food Safety Committee says that chicken should carry a government health warning on the packet, like cigarettes.
Consider this: Chickens may be fed the flesh and by-products of any other animals including sheep (which may be infected with scrapie) and cattle (which may be infected with BSE), dead (through disease) chickens and chicken excrement.
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 faeces 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.
Contrary to the myths that chicken and turkey contain less cholesterol and that, reportedly, they represent a good option for those on a healthier diet, according to studies by Dean Ornish, M.D., from a five-year follow-up of patients on his popular vegetarian plan for reversing heart disease, compared with patients on the chicken and fish diet recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA), the majority following the AHA guidelines got progressively worse, while those who made intensive changes got progressively better. So bang goes the healthy option myth!
Plant foods contain no cholesterol but animal products always do. For every one percent increase in cholesterol levels, heart attack risks rises by two percent. For every 100 milligrams of cholesterol in the daily diet; the typical amount in a four-ounce serving of either beef or chicken, one's cholesterol level typically zooms up five points. And, worse still: Unlike fat, cholesterol concentrates in the lean part of the meat.
A LOW FAT FOOD?
An honest look at the nutritional value of chicken reveals that chicken meat is not low in fat, and "not even close." A 3.5-ounce piece of broiled lean steak is fifty-six percent fat as a percentage of calories, and chicken contains nearly the same at fifty-one percent. Compare that with the fat in a baked potato (one percent), steamed cauliflower (six percent) and baked beans (four percent) and any ideas that chicken is a health food go out the window. Fancy packages can't disguise the fact that chicken and all meats are muscles, and muscles are made of protein and fat Also, the combination of fat, protein and carcinogens found in cooked chicken creates troubling risks for colon cancer. Chicken not only gives you a load of fat you don't want, it's Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) are potent carcinogens produced from creatine, amino acids and sugars in poultry and other meats during cooking. These same chemicals are found in tobacco smoke and are fifteen times more concentrated in grilled chicken than beef. HCAs may be one of the reasons that meat-eaters have much higher colon cancer rates; about three hundred percent higher compared to vegetarians.
Broiler hens are the chickens which are routinely used for large portions or whole portions of chicken meat. Tony Moore of Joice and Hill broiler breeders was quoted as saying that chicken cancer (Marek's disease) is responsible for the excessively high losses of chickens and, despite chickens being vaccinated against it as day old chicks, mortality is increasingly significant. There is also a rapidly increasing threat from Gumboro disease, a viral cancer and, on top of this, avian leucosis a bird variety of leukaemia is now commonplace. In fact, one American report found that: 'Virtually all commercial chickens are heavily infected with leucosis virus'. However, since the tumours induced are not grossly apparent until about 20 weeks of age, the virus is not economically as important as is the Marek's disease virus, which induces tumours by 6-8 weeks of age.
Can chicken cancer spread to humans, you may well ask? Well, the short answer is that I cover it in detail in my book 'The Undigestible Truth about Meat' and the long answer is, it is quite possible since studies do seem to prove that malignant tumours and other cancers can spread from one species to another.
Indeed, Cox, regarding bovine leukemia (cancer in cow's) cites one scientist as saying "It should be inferred that cattle with leukemia may, in favouring circumstances, be a factor disposing man to neoplasms (cancer), especially to the proliferation of the lymphatic system, either through longer contact with sick animals or the longer ingestion of milk and milk products from cows with leukemia.
However, in some ways the connection is really very simple. Firstly, we know that some 'meat producing animals' (especially cows and chickens) suffer from tumours and cancers. Secondly, we know that cancer can be transmitted by virus, from one animal to another and indeed from one species to another. Thirdly, cancerous and tumorous meat are not necessarily removed at the slaughterhouse, and may quite easily find its way to the butcher's shop. The inevitable conclusion drawn from the above is that the chances are that if you eat meat, sooner or later you will eat part of an animal that either has cancer or has been exposed to a virus that can cause cancer. It is difficult, however, to quantify the risk you would be running by eating tumorous meat (especially since cancers can take many years to surface).
In food processing plants where workers process red meat as well as chicken, the chicken preparation areas are often cordoned off from the rest of the plant. The work there is carried out behind glass screens in a kind of quarantine just in case bugs which thrive on and in chicken leap out and infect everything else. One of the most widespread of these bugs is salmonella. Almost every process of chicken production helps to spread bugs from one chicken to another until they finish up inside the plastic wrappers. There is a danger when touching raw chicken that people can spread the infection elsewhere.
According to an article by Murry Cohen, M.D. and Allison Lee Solin of the PCRM, Campylobacter, the most common cause of diarrohea in the United States, can sometimes lead to a paralysis-inducing disease called Gullian-Barré Syndrome, and Salmonella which causes severe food poisoning, can be fatal. They state that, according to 1997 tests conducted by the Minnesota Health Department, seventy-nine percent of chickens sampled from supermarkets were infected with campylobacter, and twenty percent of those were infected with an antibiotic-resistant strain. About fifty-eight percent of turkeys were infected, and eighty-four percent of those carried the resistant strain. With the introduction of quinolones for use in poultry, resistant strains of campylobacter are now appearing in the U.S., explains Stuart Levy, M.D., a physician with the Tufts School of Medicine, who described the antibiotic-resistance trend as an international public health nightmare. In February 1999, the British medical journal 'The Lancet' reported that scientists had discovered antibiotic-resistant bacteria in feed being given to chickens in the United States. The authors called it an ominous sign for humans.
Kieswer of the PCRM argues that with live salmonella bacteria growing inside one in every three packages of chicken, chicken meat is making a lot of people sick. Although deaths from salmonella poisonings sometimes make the evening news, millions more cases that cause flu-like symptoms go unaccounted. Salmonella poisoning can cause vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and low-grade fever, lasting for several days. When it spreads to the blood and other organs, it can be fatal (and is for as many as 9,000 people every year). Also, campylobacter infects as many as two-thirds of all pre-packaged chicken. Salmonella and campylobacter have become increasingly common because modern factory farms crowd thousands of chickens into tightly confined spaces, where excrement and other forms of bacteria spread contaminants. As we have learned, chicken has the same amount of cholesterol as beef; four ounces of beef and four ounces of chicken both contain about 100 milligrams of cholesterol and the cholesterol from chicken similarly clogs arteries and causes heart disease (Ibid.). The human body produces cholesterol on its own and never needs outside sources. Each added dose contributes to artery blockages which lead to heart attacks, strokes and other serious health problems.
According to Dr Barnard of the PCRM, chicken may look harmless but fancy marketing campaigns cannot disguise its shortcomings. Chicken may be lighter in colour than beef, but your body can hardly tell the difference. Chicken, like other animal products, contains hefty doses of cholesterol, fat, and animal protein. It leaves your body wanting for fibre, vitamin C, and complex carbohydrates. When heated, chicken produces dangerous heterocyclic amines (HCAs) as creatine, amino acids, and sugar in chicken muscles interact. HCAs, the same carcinogens found in tobacco smoke, are 15 times more concentrated in grilled chicken than beef. The fat, animal protein, and carcinogens in cooked chicken creates risks for colon cancer. What's more, poultry, like all meat, lacks any fibre to help cleanse the digestive tract of excess hormones and cholesterol. Moreover, you wouldn't dream of taking veterinary medicines, but in choosing chicken you're doing just that. Today's farms increasingly operate much like factories. Unlike PCBs, which are slow to leave our bodies, chemicals from medicated feed and various veterinary compounds do get eliminated when we stop eating meat. In comparison with the general population, vegetarian women have 98 to 99 percent lower levels of several pesticides as well as many other chemicals ingested by eating animal products.
In the US, in one of their biggest-ever meat recalls, agribusiness giant Cargill called back almost 17 million pounds of "ready-to-eat" turkey and chicken products. They were processed at Cargill's Waco, Texas, plant between May Day and mid-December. The fear: possible contamination by the often-deadly bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Dr Barnard of the PCRM argues that this development added an exclamation point to the end of 2000, a year already beset by a record-setting pace of more than 70 U.S. meat recalls.
According to Dr Barnard, the latest problem, listeria, may not be the household name that salmonella is, or that E. coli and campylobacter are fast becoming, but it's depressingly familiar to emergency room personnel, who routinely see the human costs of foodborne illnesses. With listeria, that can often entail high fevers, severe headaches, neck stiffness, and nausea. Such symptoms can persist for days, even weeks. Listeria can also trigger miscarriages and stillbirths. And even with treatment, it kills fully one-fifth of those contracting it. Untreated, it kills 70 percent. Listeria strikes hardest at those with weakened or overtaxed immune systems, notably the elderly, the frail, pregnant women, newborn infants, diabetics, AIDS patients, cancer radiation and chemotherapy patients, and organ transplant recipients.
In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 1989, listeriosis exacts dire consequences. Infections in adults younger than 40 years proved fatal 11 percent of the time. In adults older than 60, the death rate was 63 percent. Women infected late in their pregnancies pass the disease to their fetuses, later giving birth to children with central-nervous-system infections in nearly every case.
Scientists detected listeria in up to 70 percent of uncooked poultry and meat samples they collected from seven countries, according to studies published in the Journal of Food Protein in 1989 and 1993. Those pieces snugly fit into the more general pattern. In instance after instance, foodborne illness investigations show the culprit to have been either an animal product or contamination of food or water by faeces from animal agriculture.
As long as we make meat the centre of our diet with foodborne illness will remain a fact of life. As matters stand, estimates put U.S. foodborne illness cases at 76 million per year, including 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths, 500 of those from listeriosis. Even if pathogens such as listeria could somehow be eliminated, digestive-tract cancers, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and other debilitating illnesses would still make eating a sliced turkey sandwich, chicken salad, or hot dogs akin to wandering through minefields. Fortunately, we can avoid those hazards. One of the most attractive features of bananas, carrots, oatmeal, pasta, and veggieburgers is that they have no intestines where virulent bacteria may incubate. In the bargain, they contain no cholesterol and very little fat!
'Poultry the Facts' Farm Animal Welfare Network
www.Chetday.com 'Chicken is bad for your health' article
www.PCRM.com article by Dr Neal Barnard
www.PCRM.com article by Karen Keiswer
VIVA leaflet - Chicken - the Healthy Option?