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Chickens Are Eating Arsenic? Time to Buy Organic

April 10, 2012

Prozac. Tylenol. Benadryl. Though these may sound like the contents of a medicine cabinet, they are in fact the chemicals that are being routinely fed to industrially farmed chickens. According to Nicholas Kristof’s recent New York Times article “Arsenic in our Chicken?”, it gets worse: researchers have also discovered the presence of arsenic and banned antibiotics in poultry feathers.

As it turns out, feeding chickens trace amounts of arsenic reduces infections and improves the pinkish hue of the meat. Though there’s no evidence yet that these low levels of arsenic are harmful, the practice is still illegal in the E.U. and Canada – and as of last week, Maryland is to become the first state in the U.S. to ban arsenic in chicken feed.

As for Prozac, Tylenol, and Benadryl, Kristof reports that they are all used as sedatives to reduce anxiety among factory-farmed chickens. Crowded and often brutal conditions result in birds that are in constant distress, a state that stunts their growth and results in tougher meat. To counteract the drowsiness caused by these sedatives, chickens are also fed caffeine so they can stay awake longer and continue eating.

From a global health perspective, most disturbing is the industry’s use of illegal antibiotics. For years, scientists have argued that the practice – developed because the drugs stimulate growth and compensate for the filthy, germ-ridden conditions the animals live in – has contributed to the rapid growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. According the Infectious Diseases Society of America, these “superbugs” already kill more Americans every year than AIDS and could be catastrophic in the future. To fight this emerging health crisis, a federal judge just ordered the FDA to move forward on removing antibiotics from animal feed.

Why are we eating animals that were unnaturally fattened, artificially pigmented, have suffered miserably, and are rendering antibiotics – arguably the most life-saving discovery in medical history – obsolete? It’s just not worth it.

Now more than ever, it’s time to buy organic meat that was humanely raised and fed a vegetarian diet free of hormones and antibiotics. Navigating the meat aisle can be confusing – check out our post on how to make sense of meat labels – so when in doubt, choose “certified organic.”

Organic meat is definitely more expensive than factory-farmed meat, so if cost is a concern, you can balance out your weekly meals by adding more vegetarian options. Start with Meatless Mondays and see how going meat-free works for you!

Will this news affect your meat-eating habits?