A Happy Chicken Is … A Tastier Chicken?

Chickens

“We are going to go beyond what a chicken needs and give chickens what they want,” said Jim Perdue, whose grandfather founded the eponymous business in 1920, to the New York Times.

No more dark barns. Brighter ones – with windows, no less! – ideally without the continuous din of thousands of chickens saying whatever it is that penned-up (if not caged-up) chickens say. Maybe they’ve been asking for healthier quarters, less crowding, maybe even a choice between ‘meat’ (in the form of ground-up bones and an awful assortment of offal) and ‘fish’ (even if it is ground up, bones included, and served in a near-powder form mixed with enough antibiotics to kill a horse (or assorted  ailments likely to affect chickens).

The Times reported Saturday (June 26) on how, at a Seaford, Delaware, chicken-raising facility – to call it a ‘house’ would grossly abuse the latter term; to call it a ‘factory farm’ would fly in the face of the expensive efforts Perdue, like a few other chicken producers, are undergoing to both treat their ‘product’ – their chickens – more humanely but also to get them to look and taste more like chickens did before the era of mass chicken production dawned in the mid-20th Century.

In the 1960’s, in New York City, one could go into an A&P supermarket on 6th Avenue and buy on-sale chicken for $0.19 (19¢) per pound. Today, that same factory-produced, way-too-fatty chicken would cost more like $1.19 per pound – and be even more laden with antibiotics and other chemicals employed primarily to grow chickens incredibly fast – “forced to grow 65 times faster than their bodies normally would, and the industry continually seeks to increase their growth rate,” says the website freefromharm.org.

I was fortunate a couple of years ago to be at the right place at the right time, when an Amish farmer a couple of counties away was taking orders for his field-raised, antibiotic-free chickens. Foolishly, I ordered only one.

I grew up in a time (the late 1940’s – early ‘50’s) when chickens were produced one at a time, at the pace nature dictated. There was no such thing as antibiotic feeding at that time; the chickens I occasionally saw slaughtered with a single swipe of an ax as the undoubtedly-unhappy bird was held down over a tree-stump chopping block were as ‘pure’ as anyone could want a chicken to be – and they tasted like it, whether portioned and fried or cooked whole in the oven or under the broiler.

An up-the-road neighbors is raising chickens facing as similar fate. But will his be as ‘natural-tasting’ as the Amish guy’s? Probably not. The neighbors’ are penned, and probably are fed a commercial meal geared toward rapid growth.

Jim Perdue, whose grandfather I met on several occasions, is due a lot of praise for the efforts his company, one of the largest chicken-processing operations in the U.S., is making to get back, as far as is commercial practical, to natural chicken-raising.

Clearly, though, there is a limit to how far mass producers of any foodstuff such as chickens – which, with turkeys, account for 99% of land animals slaughtered for food in the U.S. – can profitably go as they seek to meet the growing demand of consumers, and the ongoing pressure of humane interest groups.

But the good news, for chickens and those who consume them, is that efforts are being made to move them from embryo to appetite-satisfying in ways that will benefit both the creatures and those who consume them.

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Philadelphia Raising Money For Education Through a Sugar Tax

sugar tax

Despite the failure of similar laws in more than 30 U.S. cities and states in recent years, and in the face of massive opposition from the beverage industry, Philadelphia (PA) has instituted a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks and diet beverages. While other U.S. municipalities are considering similar levies – aimed, they say at reducing sugar consumption and obesity – only one locality, Berkeley CA, has such a law on the books. It was instituted in 2014.

Critics contend that such taxes disproportionately affect the poor, who  tend to more prone that other segments of the population to consume sugary drinks.

The same argument is put forth in the U.K., where what amounts to double taxation is about to be applied to sugary drink sales. Double taxation because such beverages already are subject to a sales (VAT) tax, and the new levy will add a levy of as much as twelve pence (eight cents) to the cost of a can of Coke.

The British scheme is intended to force companies who produce drinks like Coca-Cola, Gatorade and tonic water to reduce the amount of sugar in their recipes. Critics of the Conservative government say it has, in reality, just introduced another punitive tax on the poor.

The lowest-earning British citizens, who smoke moderately, already lose 37 percent of their disposal income to “sin taxes,” according to the Institute for Economic Affairs. “Sin taxes are a pious, regressive absurdity,” says the Spectator, riding the wave of incredulity racing across Britain.

Of course, no one is forced to glug their way through super-sized family bottles of Coca-Cola, but studies suggest people on lower incomes are the most regular consumers. By targeting cigarettes—and now sodas—the government is doubling down on disproportionately taxing the poor.

“It is astonishing that the Chancellor has announced a tax on sugary drinks when there is no evidence from anywhere in the world that such taxes have the slightest effect on obesity,” said Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. “Whether dressed up as a direct tax or a levy on industry, the effect will be that the government will be picking the pockets of the poor for no benefit.”

It’s also something Prime Minister David Cameron promised he would not do—just five months ago. At the time, he did not cite regressive taxation as his primary fear, nor concerns about the nanny state gone wild. He just said it wouldn’t work: “The Prime Minister thinks there are more effective ways of tackling this issue than putting a tax on sugar,” a spokesman said in October.

Well, he’s changed his mind.

His finance minister—Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne—announced that drinks companies would be taxed according to how much sugar is in each drink. One rate for drinks with more than 17.7g per 12-oz can, and a higher rate for those with at least 28g. Coke falls into the top bracket, and would cost around 8 pence (12 cents) more. High-end smoothies and energy drinks will also be subject to the tax, although there are exceptions for milk-based drinks and pure juices.

“I am not prepared to look back at my time here in this Parliament . . . and say to my children’s generation, ‘I’m sorry. We knew there was a problem with sugary drinks. We knew it caused disease. But we ducked the difficult decisions and we did nothing,’” he said.

Soda companies have two years to change their drinks before the levy comes in. A sales tax (VAT) is already charged when customers buy soda, unlike most other food and drink in Britain.

Osborne says he hopes the new tax will force the companies to adapt, but analysts say the charge is likely to be passed straight on to consumers.

Health campaigners, and some former New York mayors, hope that will encourage people to shop differently.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney does not contend his sweet-drinks tax is health oriented: He sold the City Council on the idea by putting forth a plan that would see most of the raised revenue – an estimate $365 million over five years – into schools, preschools and similar education-oriented projects.

After the Council’s vote, Mayor Kenney said, “Thanks to the tireless advocacy of educators, parents, rec[reation] center volunteers and so many others, Philadelphia made a historic investment in our educational system today.”

Not to mention what parents will save by not having to pay to repair sugar-damaged teeth, or for the care of diabetes contributed to by kids’ excess sugar consumption.

 

Stressed? Bored? Go For Salty Snacks – or Don’t, For Your Health

salty_snacks

Stressed out Americans are driving the US salty snack market to new heights, with 62% of Americans consuming salty snacks as a stress-reliever – up from 16% a year ago—according to new research from Mintel.

The report says more than 30% of consumers eat salty snacks when they are bored – that being, coincidentally, a frequent contributor to stress – and up from 25% eating salty snacks as a boredom-reliever a year earlier.

Where are salty snacks consumers indulging themselves? Mintel reports that 33% of those surveyed eat them away from home, 26% and eat them while at work. As that amounts to only 59% of the study group, one night assume – from the provided information – 41% of salty snack eaters, in this group, anyway, randomly absorb them while so distracted they have no clue where they are at the time they do so.

Smokers similarly report that doing so serves to relieve stress or boredom, or both. In both examples, though, the relief could be cut-short by high blood pressure (in the case of the snacks) and cancer (linked to smoking).

While it more than likely is no longer true that teens who smoke are parented by smokers, it once was largely a given: Non-smoking parents, back in the whimsical ‘day’, often abstained for either religious or deeply-held health reasons.

Still, it is interesting to note, as Mintel did, while 35% of parents indulge in salty snacks apace with their kids, 73% of parents (vs. 55% of non-parents) support the contention that salty snack-eating is a stress reliever.

 

With 94 percent of Americans purchasing salty snacks and 13 percent replacing meals with them, Mintel research reveals that three quarters (74 percent) of consumers are interested in healthier salty snacking options. Along these lines, another three in five (61 percent) agree that salty snacks have too many artificial ingredients, while four in five (79 percent) find it important to be able to recognize the ingredients in salty snacks. What’s more, 58 percent of salty snack purchasers agree that it is important to buy salty snacks that contain only a few ingredients.

Despite interest in healthier options, taste trumps all when choosing salty snacks: three in five (62 percent) consumers agree that taste is more important than how healthy a salty snack is. In fact, a new flavor (38 percent) is the most influential purchasing factor for American salty snackers, along with spicy flavor (30 percent) and limited-edition/seasonal flavor (22 percent). Taste remains a key purchase factor as consumers tend to view snacking as a guilty pleasure (69 percent) and indulge in salty snacking as a way to reward themselves (63 percent).

However, taste and health are not polarizing Americans, as four in five (82 percent) consumers agree that salty snacks can be both healthy and tasty.

“Consumption of salty snacks is largely driven by emotion, including stress and boredom. Consumers are looking for ways to manage their wellbeing, and the impact of food on emotional and mental health is becoming more important. Our research reveals this is especially true among parents, with the majority agreeing that salty snacks relieve stress,” said Amanda Topper, Senior Food Analyst at Mintel. “Not only do parents’ hectic lifestyles force them to snack while on the go, but the majority who buy salty snacks agree that snacking throughout the day is a healthy alternative to regular meals. Brands that highlight health and wellness benefits can appeal to parents that are often buying snacks that can be consumed by themselves and their children.”

“Striking a balance between good tasting and good for you is key for salty snack brands. While consumers are concerned about ingredients and express interest in seeing healthier options on shelves, they still want to indulge, and flavor is a highly motivating factor. Brands that focus on products with bold, new flavors that incorporate simple ingredients will offer the best of both worlds to consumers,” continued Topper.

With consumers looking to balance simplicity and indulgence, meat snacks are driving the salty snacks category, comprising 30 percent of retail sales. From 2010-15, sales of meat snacks grew faster than any other segment (55 percent), benefiting from consumers who are looking for fewer ingredients and healthy options. Mintel research indicates that consumers are more likely to look for no artificial ingredients (22%), organic (17 percent) and high protein (33 percent) claims on meat snacks than any other salty snack.

Overall, the salty snacks category grew 29 percent from 2010-15, reaching $10.2 billion, with sales projected to climb an additional 22 percent to $12.4 billion in 2020.

“Recent innovations in flavor and format have helped to spur sales of meat snacks, which are largely perceived as a natural snack food with clean ingredients. Future growth of the burgeoning meat snacks segment, and the salty snacks category overall, will hinge on brands continuing to identify and adapt to consumers’ better-for-you interests and remain transparent in the ingredients they are adding and removing from snacks,” concluded Topper.

 

 

FDA Encouraging Sharp Cut in Salt In Packaged, Restaurant Foods

salt-hiddensource

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this past week issued “long-awaited proposed guidelines targeting packaged foods and restaurant meals that contain the bulk of American’s daily sodium intake,” a voluntary approach that is part of the Obama administration’s ongoing effort “to push the food industry toward reducing the amount of ingredients such as sugar and some fats in an effort to improve consumer health and reduce medical costs,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
The story says that “the FDA wants to cut individual daily salt intake to 2,300 milligrams over the next decade from a current average of about 3,400 milligrams. It is targeting 150 categories of food, including soups, deli meats, bakery products, snacks and pizza, and officials said consumers have struggled to reduce their intake because most of it is added before it reaches the table … The voluntary salt targets are to be phased-in. The rules as currently proposed give manufacturers two years to begin cutting sodium levels in products, and up to 10 years to make further cuts. The longer time period is intended to recognize the time it takes to develop new foods products, the FDA said.”
According to the Journal, “The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group, estimated that it would take six to 18 months and cost $500,000 to $700,000 to reformulate a product with less salt to meet the guidelines, assuming alternatives were available.”
Meanwhile, in a related story, the Gothamist reports that a New York State appeals court has lifted an injunction that prevented the New York City Board of Health from enforcing a sodium labeling law.
The story says that beginning next Monday (June 6), “any chain restaurant in New York City that operates 15 or more locations in the United States is subject to the law, which requires them to mark dishes that exceed the Board’s recommendation for daily sodium intake with an icon of a salt shaker inside a triangular warning sign.”

salt_shaker

Unfortunately, the food industry has brought the need for such guidelines on itself, by so substantially – and unnecessarily – boosting the sodium content of countless products in the name of either taste-enhancing or improving shelf (and pantry) life.

I happen to be uncommonly sensitive to salt in food. I do nearly all the cooking in my house, and only very rarely do I add any salt to anything. And there are a great many places (including nearly every fast food chain) that I refuse to patronize because of their salt use practices.

Among other things, too much salt in one’s food can contribute to high blood pressure, water retention and, not by chance, weight gain.

In reporting on the new FDA proposed guidelines, The New York Times noted that Americans eat almost 50 percent more sodium than what most experts recommend. Regarding its link to high pressure, “a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” The Times quoted the FDA as saying “one in three Americans have high blood pressure; For African-Americans, it is one in two.”

The FDA said Americans eat about 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day, well above the 2,300 recommended. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), a decrease in sodium intake by as little as 400 milligrams a day could prevent 32,000 heart attacks and 20,000 strokes annually.

While there has been some scientific controversy over how much to reduce sodium, scientists at the FDA said the health advantages are beyond dispute.