Archive for June, 2009

Maryland’s Attorney General “Provably Wrong” About Safety of Chicken, NCC Says

June 30, 2009

The Attorney General of Maryland, Douglas Gansler (D), has written an opinion article in The Washington Post stating that chicken is “laced with arsenic.” Mr. Gansler is wrong: absolutely, provably wrong.

If Mr. Gansler were actually to read up on this subject, rather than take his lead from various activists, he would study the findings of the federal agency charged with monitoring the presence of arsenic and other substances in certain foods.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is widely found. As the World Health Organization puts it: “Arsenic is ubiquitous, found in air, water, fuels, and marine life. The daily human intake of arsenic contained in food is in the range 0.5–1 milligrams.” Because trace amounts of arsenic occur widely, the Food & Drug Administration sets a tolerance level in foods. For chicken, that level is 0.5 parts per million.

“The truth is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service samples chicken among many other food for residues of arsenic and many other chemical compounds. The sampling for 2007 showed exactly zero violations among the chickens sampled. Zero,” NCC President George Watts wrote in a letter to the Washington Post.

FSIS also reports findings that do not violate the tolerance level. Some of the samples of chicken livers had findings of arsenic above the level of detection but below the tolerance level. This is because elements such as arsenic tend to “bioaccumulate” in the liver. You would have to eat an enormous amount of chopped liver before you would come close to having a problem, even on a theoretical basis.

As for chicken meat, which is what people normally eat, the agency found no samples with any arsenic at all. This shows that any arsenic present was so insignificant that it was below the level of laboratory detection.

It also shows that chicken is not “laced” with arsenic, whatever Mr. Gansler might think.

Animal health products that include arsenic as one of their chemical building blocks are used in some chicken flocks by some poultry companies. These products are effective in preventing coccidiosis in chickens, which is an infection by microscopic parasites. The use of these products is regulated by FDA.

These products are used to keep the chickens healthy, and a withdrawal period is observed to ensure that these products are not present when the chickens are processed for food. The fact that zero violations were found is proof that the prescribed withdrawal period is observed.

Mr. Gansler claims to have signed up a number of the other state attorneys general in his quest to ban the use of safe, effective products in poultry production. His colleagues might want to look at the facts and take their cue from the experts rather than from an uninformed politician.

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.

Advertisements

CDC Report on Foodborne Illness Is Skewed by Single Large Outbreak

June 12, 2009

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a report on foodborne illness which presents a misleading picture of the safety of poultry. The report contains anomalies that seriously skew the results.

The report suggests that poultry is the single leading cause of outbreaks of foodborne illness, with poultry responsible for 21 percent of outbreak-related cases. This is based on attributing 1,355 cases to poultry out of a total of 6,395 cases (21.1 percent). However, of the total cases attributed to poultry, 741 stemmed from a single incident in an Alabama jail or prison in March 2006 which is suspected (but not confirmed, accordingly to a publicly available CDC database) to result from Clostridium perfringens in baked chicken. Without this single incident, poultry would account for 614 of 5,653 cases, or 10.9 percent. This would place poultry well behind other commodities mentioned in the report.

The Alabama incident also explains another oddity in the report: the high number of cases (902) attributed to C. perfringens in poultry, which typically causes problems if food is left out in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period of time. While C. perfringens is a known cause of foodborne illness in poultry (as well as other foods), it has not previously been mentioned as a leading cause. If the Alabama cases are removed from the total, the number of cases of foodborne illness from C. perfringens in poultry in 2006 would be 161. According to the report, the average annual number of cases of foodborne illness from C. perfringens in all food sources from 2001 to 2005 was 2,077.

“America’s chicken producers and processors work hard to provide safe, wholesome food to customers in the United States and around the world,” said Steve Pretanik, the National Chicken Council’s director of science and technology. “Any case of foodborne illness is unfortunate, but it is unfair to present a picture that is skewed by a single, unusual event.”

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.

##

New Movie on U.S. Food System Seen as One-Sided and Misleading

June 5, 2009

A new documentary movie on the American food industry is “one-sided, negative, and misleading” and promotes a model of an agricultural system that could not possibly produce enough food to feed consumers in the United States and around the world, according to the National Chicken Council.

The movie, entitled “Food, Inc.,” opened Thursday in New York and will begin showing in Los Angeles and San Francisco next Friday, with engagements in a limited number of cities to follow.

“The truth is that the chicken industry produces, processes and markets chickens and chicken products in a safe, responsible manner that delivers wholesome, high-quality products to consumers at affordable prices,” NCC said.

The film shows Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, who has a “pastured poultry” operation, arguing that small-scale production would produce better food. In a rebuttal posted to the web site www.nationalchickencouncil.com, NCC says that small-scale operations occupy only a small niche in the overall system.

“Small-scale farms and ranches simply could not provide sufficient food for 300 million Americans and millions of other people around the world,” NCC says. “There is simply not enough land or labor available to make the model work.” If the mainstream chicken industry attempted to achieve its annual production of more than nine billion birds on a “pastured poultry” basis, it would need 45 million acres — more than all the farmland in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas combined, NCC estimated. “There is simply no way that much land would be available,” NCC said.

The cost to consumers would also be prohibitive, NCC added, noting that products from small-scale producers are typically more expensive than products from mainstream producers.

“If a consumer wants to pay more, that is his or her business, but insisting that only expensive products from small-scale operations are worth eating is pure snobbery,” the NCC statement said.

Reviews of the new film have been mixed. The Village Voice in New York called it “tedious” and “cluttered.”

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States.