Food Safety: A Closer Look at Industrially Raised Chicken
More than 50 billion chickens worldwide are reared annually for both their meat and their eggs. In order to satisfy huge market demands, the majority of chicken farmers have adopted intensive industrial-farming systems for their high yield. Although industrial farming has turned mainstream in the poultry industry, a lot of consumers are still doubtful about the safety of the meat produced by industrial farms. Many hope for the return of the traditional way of raising chickens. So, what are the differences between the two approaches?
Traditional farming: free-range chickens in a natural environment
During the early days of traditional farming, farmers usually kept their chickens outdoors around their houses, near forests, in orchards, or on grassy plains with big fences for protection. The chickens generally lived in the natural environment except during bad weather and at night.
In outdoor environments, insects, grass, tender leaves, even frogs and mice could become chickenfeed, which is natural and healthy. On larger chicken farms, the quantity of wild foods often could not meet the needs of all chickens. Farmers thus needed to provide supplements that were mostly made up of natural plant materials such as corn, soybean meal and wheat.
Chickens reared in natural environments are healthier, but grow much slower. From hatching to slaughter usually takes more than half a year.
Intensive industrial farming: chickens living in overcrowded sheds
In order to improve the speed and efficiency of chicken-meat production, the traditional way of rearing chickens in natural environments has gradually been replaced. Industrial chicken farmers have adopted high-density farming methods so that the greatest number of chickens can be produced in the least amount of space. Tens of thousands of chickens are generally kept in an enclosed shed, each occupying a place smaller than the size of A4 paper. In such overcrowded and confined conditions, poor air quality and lack of sanitation prevent the healthy growth of chickens.
One of the largest chicken-processing companies in the world used to advertise that its own chickens were cleaner than those of its competitors because they were kept in outdoor cages and fed vegetarian feed without the use of antibiotics. However, a contractor working for the company revealed the truth: The chickens were not properly taken care of, with chicks being raised in closed sheds with no access to sunlight or fresh air; most of the chickens were listless and suffered from severe loss of feathers, while many died from sickness. Chickens living in such environments often start the spread of many infectious diseases.
Quickening the growth period: controversial fast-growing chickens
In addition to adopting high-density farming to increase production, farmers also quicken the growth time of chickens to boost production efficiency. These days, industrial farms are raising “fast-growth chickens.” According to a survey, a chicken took 95 days to reach 1,300 grams in 1935. In contrast, in the 21st century a chicken can reach 2,420 grams at six weeks (42 days).
In December 2012, farms in Shandong province in China were exposed as utilizing harmful and criminal practices. They were feeding their flocks illegal drugs to fatten fast-growth chickens which were supplied directly to some well-known fast-food restaurants, bypassing the inspection of the Department of Health. According to informed sources, those farms generally provided 24-hour lighting so that chickens would be fooled into believing that it was always daytime. Chickens in such brightly lit environments cannot go to sleep, so continue to eat and grow rapidly.
Although this style of farming drastically boosts the growth rate of chicks and meets the huge market demand, there is a lot of controversy regarding the food safety of such chickens and the lack of compassion for animal welfare.
The drug additives: harmful chickenfeed
Some farmers mix hormones into chicken feed. According to clinical data, children who consume a lot of meat tend to experience early puberty, which is very likely caused by the residual hormones in chicken meat. Consumption of meat containing hormones is equivalent to the direct intake of hormones, which disrupts the normal secretion of hormones by the human body.Long-term consumption of hormone-laced chicken meat will cause hormonal imbalance. As a result, men tend to experience hypogonadism, breast development, early baldness, and liver and kidney dysfunction; women could become masculinized, suffer from menstrual disorders, muscle hyperplasia, excessive hair growth, higher incidence of polycystic ovary syndrome, and even infertility.
To keep chickens alive, farmers usually feed fast-growth chickens at least 18 different antibiotics, which is another major cause for concern. The medical world is well aware that the overuse of antibiotics leads to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. After chickens are fed antibiotics, drug residues remain in their bodies. After they are slaughtered for consumption, the drugs get into the human body. Although taken indirectly, the drugs cause bacteria in the human body to develop resistance, likely triggering the birth of superbugs. In addition, consumption of foods containing antibiotics may also cause hives and other allergies, even possibly aplastic anemia.
Faced With Chicken-Meat Quality Issues In Recent Years, What Choices Do Consumers Have?
Differentiate between industrially raised chicken and free-range chicken
Try to purchase meat that came from chickens reared using the traditional method. Free-range outdoor chickens get enough exercise, so they tend to have firmer meat. Furthermore, their feeding process does not involve hormones or any unnatural way of fattening up, so they should be the first choice of consumers.
Since chickens dominate today’s market, it is not an easy task to find free-range chicken meat. If you have a chance to visit a chicken producer, pay attention to certain details. For example, a free-range chicken’s beak is long and pointed like a hawk’s, while an industrially farmed chicken’s beak is short and flat; feathers on free-range chickens are bright and shiny, and the skin on their legs is rough; the feathers of industrial chickens are not shiny, and the skin on their legs is smooth and delicate. Do your research and look for family farm-style chicken producers.
A more balanced diet with less meat
It is recommended that meat and vegetables be properly balanced, with meat being served in a smaller portion. Although meat can provide the human body with necessary energy, there is much reason for concern about the quality of modern meat products. Thus, consume meat in moderation. Some research indicates that reduced meat consumption encourages weight loss, prevents cerebrovascular disease and diabetes, improves digestion, and even lessens the risk of cancer.
Eat more vegetables and whole grains. Fiber-rich plant foods are essential for health. Dietary fiber is of two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can prevent heart disease and high blood pressure; insoluble can promote gastrointestinal motility, help reduce constipation, and prevent the occurrence of colorectal cancer.
Health and vitality with adequate exercise
Paying attention to how and where food is raised is just one component of a healthy lifestyle. To achieve better health, exercise is also very important. Exercise can speed up the metabolism, which helps improve the body’s natural detoxification process.
Sweating prompts the toxins in the body to be naturally discharged. Bodhi Meditation’s Energy Bagua practice as well as prostration are excellent exercises which promote the release of toxins. They also quickly boost energy and enhance the immune system.
Modern industrial farming practices have largely destroyed the healthy food cycle of Nature. Take measures to investigate where your food is sourced. A return to the natural way of raising chickens and other foods is essential for the health of people, animals, and Mother Earth.