29 July 2005

Supermarket Secrets - Chicken Makes You Fat?

Dispatches: Supermarket Secrets from Channel4.com

I watched this truly eye opening programme last night and really do not think I can face eating another supermarket chicken, or chicken product, ever.

Due to the pronouncement about thirty years ago that we should all eat less red meat and eat more white, demand for chicken went through the roof. As a consequence to that, chickens were bred, and special feeds produced, to make them bulk out in half the time.

It seems that although their body bulk increases faster, their bone structure does not and we were treated to film of an average, 'acceptable' factory farming shed, full of very large, very young chickens whose legs were not developed enough to hold them up. Those that could stand, waddled, very few even hopped, the best seemed as disabled as any morbidly obese human.

Those that couldn't stand were trampled, and died of those injuries or of dehydration, being unable to reach the food and water hoppers. Although there are 'standards' regarding the sale of a whole carcass, apparently they are not so stringent regarding portions like chicken breasts and the suggestion was made that disease free but damaged chickens (obviously in pain) were used for that market.

I put standards in inverted commas for a reason. The birds are in a shed, with a concrete floor. On top of that is litter (like kitty litter) so the whole shed becomes one giant, unwashed litter tray, full of excrement and producing plenty of ammonia. Its seems that 82%, almost every single bird, suffer painful burns from this - where the legs, if not also the breast, are in too frequent contact with this vile cocktail.

When you buy a pre-packed chicken, check the leg joints - the 'knees' or hocks trail in the acrid poop mix and exhibit brown scorch marks on the scales known as hockburns, even deep enough to go right through layers of scaly skin into the muscle.

If the scaley skin has been cut away at that point too, you are certain to have bought a chicken that lived a very short life in a cramped, dark and pungent shed, but also in pain.

If all that doesnt move you, then consider the fat content.

When chicken meat was first recommended, the animals tested were active, healthy birds; the athletes of the farmyard, running around all over the place. They had strong bones and a low fat content. Of the fat there was, a high proportion was omega 3 - essential for brain development.

Factory chickens produce masses more fat - they have nowhere to run, their legs often can't carry them anyway, and of the fat content, the omega 3 has shot down, in proportion.

The researchers bought a couple of the best grade chickens at all the major supermarket chains and sent them for testing. Each and every one produced a whole jam (jelly) jar full of fat and precious little protein, because of the farming methods.

You now get more fat than protein from a piece of chicken.

One of the eminent interviewees suggested a direct correlation between the loss of omega 3 in the diet over thirty years, and the increase in mental health problems in young people.

Last but not least, obviously, chickens get diseases. There is one disease passed on by tiny cysts in the bowel movements.

Because the floors of the sheds are the way they are, there is a high chance that other chickens will peck at the diseased faeces. I guess a chicken's nature is to peck at seedlike things on the floor, rather than in a hopper.

So they drug the food.

They drug it with a chemical which is currently under review as potentially more dangerous that first realised.

The drugged food is replaced with normal food only one week before the animals go to slaughter, but traces are still there in the liver and meat, when the creature is sold. The final micrograms per kilo of meat is only half the current allowed level, but the operative word there is current. And if it's still in a chicken's system after a week, well then once you've eaten it, its going to stick around inside you, too.

Our local butcher closed down. One of the owners retired and the supermarket had taken most of the trade, so now we have no choice but to eat this plumped, damaged, fatty, unhealthy rubbish. I can now tell a good, healthy, nutritious chicken from a bad one by sight, but its not going to be of any use.

This morning I feel mostly.......................shafted.


Ally said...

We have just found some people called 'Northern Harvest' (handy, because we are in the North) who will deliver not only the statutory organic vegetable box, but who's main mission in life is to source produce from local producers. So there's a big range of organic/non-organic stuff that hasn't gone anywhere near the supermarket - we can pretty much get everything we need for a weekly shop from them, as they also do eco-toiletries etc..

Not strictly on topic, but:

The farm next door to my Ma's is run 'organically'. I haven't bought 'organic' meat from a source I haven't visited personally since the time I visited her and all the sheep were being kept in a yard up to their knees in mud, all humped up with worms because you can't use conventional drugs on them unless you are going to take them out of the food chain for a bit. And (this bit's gross, so skip it if you're eating) since she told me about how she had to go and put a tarpaulin over a sheep that was lying sick-to-death in the field having it's eyes pecked out by crows, because the farmer wouldn't come over from his other, non-organic, farm to deal with it.

Organic does NOT equal 'kind to animals'. Buying local produce, from producers you know, is the way to go, IMHO. The 'organic' label, whilst important, comes second. But obviously, all it costs more.

The Soil Association maintains a list of sources of organic stuff ... and it's a case of winnowing out the best ones from that.

I'll stop ranting and go and have my first cup of tea now.

Sparkling said...

Red meat is back on the menu!

Steve said...

I agree with Ally that organic doesnt necesarily mean kind to animals and a past incarnation being involved as an enforcement officer with both the Ministry of Agriculture and then the Food Standards agency I speak from first hand experience.

Its not as easy as you think to spot a chicken that has been raised in some terrible ( but quite legal under current legislation) conditions. Not all chickens are raised in these type of pens, some are in fact forced to walk on mesh which allows the faecal material to drop through to eliminate the cause of the hock and breastburns,not of course for welfare reasons but for economic reasons. This may sound better for the chickens but chickens feet were not designed to spend all their time walkig on mesh and this also causes some very painful injuries to the chickens feet, one of the parts removed at the slaughter and dressing stage so you cant see them.
Just to put in perspective how quickly the chickens are reared to their "ideal" slaughter weight. When i was younger we used to raise chickens that where in a large shed but with access to the outside and certainly not crammed as in the intensively reared sheds used now. At that time even considering they were fed protein pellets it took approximately 8 weeks to rear them to an acceptable weight now in the factory farms they can rear them to a heavier weight and be ready for slaughter at 3 1/2 weeks.
I have also been aware of the fat content for some time and will only cook whole chickens on a rack.

Part of this is of course the producers fault, chasing profit margins but a lot must be laid at the door of the consumer, its the consumer that insists on having cheaper and cheaper products and the producers react to the demand.

Better get of my soap box I'm getting vertigo

I'll get me coat

Cheryl said...

Consumers dont insist, Steve, comsumers will select cheap if cheap is offered, but thats done out of an (obviously ignorant) faith that they are buying what they intended to. We have misconceptions about what constitute acceptable (legal) farming methods. If we go to buy chicken because its high protein and low fat, but get a product thats low protein and high fat, thats a) misrepresentation and b) not the same product.

doris said...

I too saw that programme - you've written a realy good review; and the comments have been interesting too.

For a while now, we've been moving towards the higher priced organic/free-range meats from the supermarket but I kind of guessed that these might not have been from farming procedures that are much better. But the chicken certainly is much tastier!

Next step is to make contact with local farms and see what we can get locally.

Watching that documentary is certainly a landmark for me!

Have you seen www.themeatrix.com ?

Cheryl said...

BTW: A real, healthy chicken looks like - well it looks like a rubber chicken from the joke shop.

If its got a huge breast its been force fed and if it has chubby drumsticks, its not been able to exercise.

If when you've bought it, the leg bone is bloody and spongy (as opposed to a good grey lamb bone for the dog) then thats another indicator.

If the meat is really white (instead of the colour of dark turkey meat, I think) and if the subcutaneous fat is very white, then those are two more signs.

A good butcher will leave the feet and head on until sale so you have even more indication of its health.

Loki said...

Hey there! Ally directed me here. I just blogged about the crapness of supermarkets and she pointed me here.

I've been a vegetarian for a while, and for me, chicken is one of the worst meats around. The way in which chickens are slaughtered is beyond comprehension. So I wasn't really surprised by the revelations.

I feel bad that your local butcher shop has closed down, but try to find a nearer one. Your local butcher is the way you will get good quality meat, and there's a much greater chance of getting better farmed meat.

But do try your best to support local businesses. There is more about supermarkets that is quite nasty, and Joanna Blythman, who was interviewed inlast night's programme has written a book called "Shopped" about the perils of supermarkets. It's very eye-opening.

ella m. said...

I can't eat red meat or pork (famously maketed as the other white meat) so I am pretty well screwed. Dammit, lobster in butter it is then, that i can harvest humanely at least.
(although that actually sounds lovely in a heart attack inducing sort of way)

anniebee said...

It just makes me sick to think about that chicken. I caught a tiny bit of the programme. I can see me being a vegetarian before much longer. I have trouble finding ready prepared stuff that is healthy though.

Loki said...

Findy healthy ready prepared stuff is a task and a half. Items like "Tesco Healthy Living" are just low in fat or whatnot, and have more salt. I actually compared the healthy items from the not-so-healthy ones, and for most of them, you may as well just get the normal items.

Either that, or you can ensure that your food is healthy by cooking it yourself. This is a bit more labour intensive, but investing a bit of time can pay rewards, and it can be much cheaper to cook it yourself. The problem is that many people either don't have the time or the ability to cook.

Pol said...

I also watched that program.. well about half of it before I changed channels due to nausea

I haven't eaten chicken for years, not since I found out that they are fed growth hormones etc.

Anyway, I phoned my daugher and told her about it - her attitude was 'don't tell me, I don't want to know, if I listened to everything we'd never eat anything'

This is the daughter I raised to be aware of such things and who is now feeding this rubbish to her kids!

Sorry dear, but you really made me cringe at the thought of you shoving that rubbish down your kids throats.

Feel like a really bad mother now cause my daughter didn't learn anything I taught her

Jade said...

I really liked your post. Being of an ex-management position of a highly recognizable national grocery chain, I too know the poor habits created by the demand of meats in our society, chicken especially. I can say, from first hand knowledge, that your portrayal and facts are right on and I belive that more people would benefit from reading your post here. Informative, factual, and precise, you've really hit all of the high points.

My family does not eat chicken, not from here anyhow. I am lucky enough to have relatives scattered all over the midwest who raise thier own food, and pass those foods along to their family members. Natural foods are the only way to go anymore.

Thank you.