Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Human Concerns

Because raising chickens in close quarters fosters the spread of disease, factory farms use antibiotics as a matter of course; many contend that this puts humans at risk as bacterial strains develop stronger and stronger resistances.

A proposed bill in the American congress would make the use of antibiotics in animal feed legal only for therapeutic (rather than preventative) use, but it has not been passed yet. Though this will certainly solve one problem, it does not address the fact that bacteria continue to develop resistances; hence, there is the risk of slaughtered chickens harboring these bacteria and passing them on to the humans that consume them.

In October 2000, the FDA discovered that two antibiotics were no longer effective in treating diseases found in factory-farmed chickens; one antibiotic was willingly and swiftly pulled from the market, but the other, Baytril was not. Bayer, the company which produced it, contested the claim and as a result, Baytril remained in use until July of 2005.

Chickens feed can also include Roxarsone, an antimicrobial drug that also promotes growth. The drug has generated controversy because it contains the poisonous element arsenic, which can cause cancer, dementia, and neurological problems in humans. Though the arsenic in Roxarsone is not of the type which can cause cancer, a Consumer Reports study in 2004 discovered enough arsenic in some samples of factory-farmed chicken to "cause neurological problems in a child who ate 2 ounces of cooked liver per week or in an adult who ate 5.5 ounces per week."

Growth Hormones
The use of growth hormones in chickens (they now grow to maturity twice as quickly as they would naturally) is also a concern as the people who eat chicken consume the hormones as well. Some believe that the increasingly earlier onset of puberty is the result of the liberal use of such hormones, which are also found in other meats, as well as dairy.

According to Consumer Reports, "1.1 million or more Americans sickened each year by undercooked, tainted chicken." A USDA study discovered E.Coli in 99% of supermarket chicken, the result of chickens being raised in their own feces. Though E. Coli can usually be killed by proper cooking times, there is still some risk associated with it, and its near-ubiquity in commercially-farmed chicken is troubling to some.

Avian Flu
There is also a risk that the crowded conditions in many chicken farms will allow avian flu to spread quickly. A United Nations press release states: "Governments, local authorities and international agencies need to take a greatly increased role in combating the role of factory-farming, commerce in live poultry, and wildlife markets which provide ideal conditions for the virus to spread and mutate into a more dangerous form..."