Are There Drugs in Your Chicken Dinner?May 5, 2012 • By Marty Kassowitz
In 2005, the antibiotic fluoroquinolone was banned by the FDA for use in poultry production. The reason for the ban was an alarming increase in antibiotic-resistant campylobacter bacteria in the meat of chickens and turkeys — “superbugs,” which can lead to a lethal form of meningitis that our current antibiotics are no longer effective against.
Antibiotic-resistant infections kill tens of thousands of people every year, more than die of AIDS, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America. This problem is on the rise because antibiotics are recklessly overused, especially in the commercial livestock industry, where 80% of all antibiotics manufactured in the U.S. end up.
Fluoroquinolone used to be fed to chickens primarily to stimulate their growth. But why did the banned substance show up recently in eight of 12 samples of “feather meal,” the ground-down plumage leftover from commercial poultry production?
This was just one of the mysteries uncovered in a study conducted jointly by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and Arizona State University. The research, published last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, uncovered a whole slew of other drugs in the feather meal that the scientists had not expected to find there.
Traces of the arsenic compound Roxarsone, for example, were present in almost all of the samples. Farms administer arsenic to chickens to turn their flesh just the right shade of pink that consumers find attractive. Yet, in June 2011, the FDA gave Pfizer 30 days to discontinue selling Roxarsone, a proven carcinogen. So why is it still showing up in our chickens?
Other substances that the scientists found include acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, Benadryl, an antihistamine, even Prozac, an antidepressant. Farms feed chickens these mood-altering drugs to reduce their anxiety. Chickens are anxious because they are bred on overcrowded and filthy factory farms. Stressed-out birds develop meat that is tough and unpalatable, so they need to be sedated. Yet, chickens on tranquilizers sleep all the time and do not eat enough. So they are given high doses of caffeine (which was also found in the feather meal) to keep them awake at night to feed and fatten up.