Paul Shapiro is the Vice President of Farm Animal Welfare at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He contributed this article to Expert Voices of Live Science: Op-Ed & Insights.
Do you know that feeling when you step out of a heavily chlorinated swimming pool? Although you have just been submerged in the water, it feels like you have to jump in the shower. Now imagine this feeling not on your skin, but in your mouth.
This is basically what happens today when people eat chickens from most American factory farms. To remove fecal contamination from chicken meat, factories typically soak bird carcasses in chlorine. It’s such an unappetizing practice that the country’s trading partners, such as Russia and the European Union, have restricted US imports of poultry.
To understand why American poultry companies prefer to risk export markets rather than stop soaking birds in chlorine, it helps to understand just how serious fecal contamination is. A 2014 Consumer Reports presentation found that almost all – 97% – of chicken breasts in the United States contained dangerous pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli, transmitted through feces and clearly not fully eliminated by the body. chlorine. In addition, even after treatment with chlorine, meat can subsequently be exposed to pathogens and contaminated.
So why is there so much poop on our nation’s poultry?
Most producers confine chickens by the tens of thousands in huge damp warehouses, where the animals have nothing to do but eat and sit, mostly in their own feces. These chickens – normally fairly athletic animals – are genetically engineered to become so obese, so quickly, that many cannot take more than a few pitiful steps before collapsing under the enormous weight of their oversized breasts.
Animal science expert Temple Grandin summed it up bluntly: “Today’s poultry chicken was bred to grow so quickly that its legs can collapse under the weight of its ballooned body. It’s horrible. [As superbugs multiply, new studies point to factory farms (Op-Ed)]
Awful indeed, just like the time animals spend wallowing in manure, often not just their own. When producers bring a new flock of birds to a shed, the common practice is to leave the manure-laden waste from the old flocks on the ground. Thus, every two months, new birds live in addition to the waste of previous generations.
To make matters worse, just in time for grilling season, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was proposing rules that could have further increased contamination. As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the plan is to speed up poultry slaughter lines, while at the same time removing several hundred government slaughterhouse inspectors. In these slaughterhouses, workers often string together live birds at random on already fast lines. It’s such an imprecise process that nearly a million birds are insufficiently stunned and slaughtered each year, according to the USDA. These animals find themselves in “plumage pools”, essentially vats of boiling water, while being fully aware. As the first order of business in these ponds, the birds let go of all their trash. This is the same water that countless other birds will then pass through, spreading the droppings from bird to bird like wildfire in dry weather.
So, faster moving lines could mean more birds will enter the scalding tanks while being conscious, leading to increased fecal contamination and, as the Washington Post described, more risk of suffering. animal and food safety issues in chicken slaughterhouses. The USDA now appears to support its proposal to ramp up the speed of the poultry line, but still aims to remove 800 government inspectors from poultry factories, allowing for further self-regulation in the chicken industry. Clearly, chlorine is simply an attempt to put lipstick on a pig – or decontaminant on a chicken.
As Americans grapple with a long series of meat recalls, periodic bouts of food poisoning outbreaks that plague many (and sometimes kill), and trade restrictions due to unsanitary meat, it may be. time to start looking for the root of the problem. We need to recognize that the abuse of farm animals is bad for them – and for us.
If that prompts more Americans to eat less meat and more plant-based meals, so much the better. This will not only reduce the amount of suffering inflicted on these animals, but lead the country towards a more humane society – and, hopefully, where people are more likely to encounter chlorine in the swimming pool than in their meals.