Category Archives: Chicken-raising

UK Fear: Brexit Could ‘Force’ Chlorinated Chicken Imports From US

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TheConversation.com

“If and when Brexit happens, the UK may well be obliged to accept chlorinated poultry as part of any separate trade deal with the US. Agricultural exports are a priority for US negotiators – it would be difficult to make an exception for chicken.”

That quote, from a June 3 article in The Guardian, expresses a fear in more than a minority of UK citizens, including the  increasing number favoring generally recognized as safe-type (GRAS) rules being applied in the preparation of material – foodstuffs – intended for human consumption. And beyond that, there is, there as in the US, an increasing move amongst consumers for chickens and chicken products from birds raised in ways closer to what nature intended – without additives in their food, being given adequate room to move and ‘act like a chicken’, to be treated, ethically, like something more than an entity to transform grain into meat. (The same issues arise when cattle-raising is discussed – as they should be.)

Consumers might wonder, given enough information to do so, how the chemical chlorine – generally thought of as a substance for sanitizing swimming pools – could possible have anything to do with the raising or processing of chickens. And why, come to that, it’s use would be acceptable under the GRAS standards.

GRAS defines, in  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) parlance, “any substance that is intentionally added to food is a food additive, that is subject to premarket review and approval by FDA, unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use, or unless the use of the substance is otherwise excepted from the definition of a food additive.”

The Guardian article focuses on a practice, the washing of chicken with a fluid containing chlorine, that has been banned in the European Union for 22 years. While the practice is being used less and less in the US, it is still legal here.

The National Chicken Council in the United States estimates that chlorine is used in some rinses and sprays in only about 10% of processing plants in the U.S. Most of the chlorine that is used in the industry is used for cleaning and sanitizing processing equipment. However, according to the web site ChickenCheckin.com, “numerous studies and scientific research have confirmed that the use of chlorinated water to chill and clean chicken is safe and effective. Chlorine-washed chicken does not pose any human health concerns and it is not present in the final product.”

Industry practice would suggest it’s perfectly OK for laying chickens – egg producers – to spend the bulk of their lives standing in their own waste. That like most other commonalities of chicken and egg producing is little-known to and less thought-about by American consumers.

It’s worth considering that, while the US has elaborate, well-thought-out, generally ‘reasonable’ rules for how food is procured, processed, transported and stored at the point of sale, the US’s rules aren’t necessarily the ‘best,’ or acceptable to governments – and ultimately the citizens – of other countries.

A decreasing number of American families regularly consume chickens that are home-raised, fed on table scraps, never subject to government inspection, and are tasty as all get out. I often experienced chickens raised that way when I was a kid. Like today’s home-raised chickens, none of them ever got me sick – aside from the occasional belly ache from eating too much.

As recently as a few years ago, I occasionally (very much) enjoyed chickens that were field raised in very small quantities on farms I visited in Southern Virginia. Their taste, and waste/fat-to-meat makeup was ounces-per-pound above store-bought chickens.

One of those farms was Amish-run. It may still be raising and selling its own chickens, but I’ve moved from that area, and on several recent trips through there the ‘dressed chickens’ sign was missing.

Another chicken-raising operation was run by two partners, one of whom had a small farm. The other guy obtained the chicks, and they split the cost of raising them, as well as the modest profits from selling them – straight to customers, via the non-farmer’s home in a nearby city.

Sadly, they found that food (grain) cost too high to justify the small farmer’s investment in time and effort to bring the chicks to a meaty-enough-for-market state.

All their customers were private, bird-or-two at a time ones, and I’m sure others, like me, were sad to see them have to give up on growing the kind of birds that used to be commonplace: Birds that were, to the degree chickens can be, ‘happy as a hen’.

I still had that taste of ‘old fashioned’ chicken in mind when, during half a decade living in England, I was regularly disappointed with the birds one or another supermarket – or local butcher – offered. One reason was the still-common use of fish meal to feed them. Over time, of course, my taste buds ‘settled’ on the taste of local chicken.

But I seriously noticed a taste difference when I returned to the US, in 1976, and resumed eating birds grown in this country. I doubt, but have no idea, if they were chlorine-washed then. Probably not; But over the years – into and through the chlorinated chicken era – the flavor of supermarket birds here has slide down the taste scale. More’s the pity.

Walmart: ‘Big Chicken’ Pecks in Synch on Prices

big_chicken

Whether or not there’s been “collusion” in the White House, a Walmart law suit contends there certainly has been amongst a sizable number of chicken producers in America.

America’s largest retail grocer has filed an antitrust suit in federal court against various U.S. poultry companies alleging a conspiracy to inflate chicken prices, Dairy Herd Management has reported.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, the suit alleges that more than a dozen major chicken companies “reached illegal agreements and restrained trade.”

The suit alleges that as early as 2008 through at least 2016, “Defendants’ restraint of trade was implemented primarily through two mechanisms. The first focused on coordinating their output and reducing the supply of broiler chickens into the market. The second focused on (among other things) manipulating price indices with respect to wholesale chicken prices.”

FRANCE-AGRICULTURE-BIRD-FLU

Companies named as defendants include: Pilgrim’s Pride, Koch Foods, JCG Foods, Koch Meat Co., various Sanderson Farms units, House of Raeford Farms, MAR- JAC Poultry, Perdue Farms and Perdue Foods, Wayne Farms, various O.K. Foods units, Peco Foods, Harrison Poultry, Foster Farms, Claxton Poultry Farms, various Mountaire Farms units Amick Farms, various Case Foods units and Agri Stats Inc.

Noticeable by their absence in the suit are Tyson Foods, Inc., George’s Inc., and Simmons Foods, Inc. All three companies were named as defendants in similar price fixing cases in Illinois.

An annual SEC filing from November 2018 indicates 17.3% of Tyson’s consolidated sales in 2018 were to Walmart.

Walmart’s lawsuit alleges, “the broiler producers’ coordinated output restriction scheme was successfully facilitated by, monitored and policed using reports purchased, at significant cost, from Defendant Agri Stats, Inc. Agri Stats collects detailed, proprietary data from all Defendants and others, including housing used, breed of chicks, average size, production, and breeder flock levels.”

Several lawsuits have been filed since 2016 alleging price-fixing by poultry companies. One defendant to an earlier lawsuit, Fieldale Farms, “agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle claims by a putative class of direct purchasers alleging that it participated in this conspiracy.” As a result, claims against Fieldale Farms were released.

So far, none of these lawsuits have been resolved, making it difficult to know what impact they may have on the industry. Conspiratorial activity and price fixing can be incredibly difficult to prove, and in today’s digital age, companies can communicate without a paper trail or sufficient evidence that they agreed to adjust their supplies.

While some food retailers are duking it out in the courtroom, Costco has taken matters into its own hands, GroceryDive reports. That retailer is building its own chicken supply chain, “which will provide it complete control and the ability to provide consumers with a high level of transparency in its production practices,” the website says.

The challenge with bringing poultry production in-house, however, means Costco must now run an entire agribusiness within its retail business.

Their new supply system is projected to save Costco 35 cents per bird, which adds up to $25 million annually. Considering that U.S. consumers are scarfing down nearly twice as much chicken as beef and pork, saving excess costs on poultry is a top priority for retailers.

While hardly novel, this kind of industry collusion is, well, despicable. It’s not as if any stage of the chicken production process – and various steps are involved – isn’t turning a reasonable profit.

In Virginia – as no doubt is the case elsewhere – Perdue uses small, family-operated farms for hen-raising. Some of those farmers are Amish or Mennonite, operating in fairly remote rural areas where property prices are, pardon the pun, dirt cheap.

So, in at least a few known instances, are their power costs: Perdue farmers in some southern Virginia counties are serviced by an electric cooperative run,  with prices approved, by its members.

That entity’s overheads are, like other utility’s, proportionate to its customer base – meaning, in this instance, ‘modest’ compared to its larger supplier cousins.

Over the years, a few, scattered industry reports have noted that farmer contracts such as Perdue – a quite large corporation – are quick to squeeze their farmers and slow to share with them if profits turn up.

Walmart, in going after Perdue and its giant compatriots, is looking out for the little guy: In part due to increasing price pressure from the Aldis and Lidls of this world, Walmart is very consciously curbing price increases and cutting consumer costs as often as it can.

Its attack on ‘Big Chicken’ (don’t you love that epithet!!) is a big ‘peck’ in that direction!

 

 

Cage-Free Is Far From Trouble-Free, Video Shows

cage-free

Still from video released today by Direct Action Everywhere

As consumer pressure has caused an increasing number of food sellers to buy, or make long-term commitments to buy, eggs from chickens not raised in cages, egg-producing farmers have turned to a system known as aviary systems. Such systems, in which barn-housed hens are crowded together outside of cages, the birds’ experience is better, but only slightly better, than their traumatic life in cages, The New York Times reported today (Oct. 21).

Their article initially focused on what investigators from Direct Action Everywhere discovered when they snuck into a barn owned by Pleasant Valley Farms, an egg producer in Farmington, Calif., and a contract egg supplier to Costco. The 783-word article went on to note how the Humane Society of the United States views aviary systems – as an alternative to battery, or caged, ones – and on the findings of researchers in Holland who ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10. They gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages received a 0 ranking.

A video released Thursday by Direct Action Everywhere, an all-volunteer animal advocacy group,  shows dead birds on the floor and injured hens pecked by other chickens. One bird had a piece of flesh hanging off its beak.

The video focuses on a hen that Direct Action rescued and named Ella. When the organization found her in the cage-free barn, she was struggling to pull herself up and had lost most of her feathers. Her back was covered in feces.

chicken-pecked

“There were birds rotting on the floor, and there was one dead bird that seemed to have lost her head,” said Wayne Hsiung, who helped make the video for the group, which is better known as DxE. “There were birds attacking birds, and the smell was horrible.”

The egg industry has long warned that hens living cage-free in aviary systems will experience higher mortality rates and more disease. Research by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, which is financed by egg producers and food companies, found “substantially worse” levels of aggression and cannibalism in cage-free systems, also known as aviary systems, compared with caged systems. It has also found more damage to the birds’ sternums.

“Consumers have an idyllic vision of what cage-free farming looks like,” Mr. Hsiung said. “They need to be shown the truth, which is that cage-free is far from humane.”

Yet, partly in response to graphic videos and reports about the conditions of caged chickens, consumers pressured companies from McDonald’s to Walmart and Costco to turn to cage-free eggs. Those companies have rushed to promise buying only cage-free eggs in the years to come, which has pushed egg producers to invest tens of millions of dollars in aviary systems. Many animal rights activists have applauded those commitments.

[An aside: At the Walmart nearest my home, large eggs have recently sold for as little as 89¢ (eighty-nine cents) per dozen.]

Costco said in a statement that the video appeared to involve just one barn out of the many that it uses to supply the eggs sold under its Kirkland brand.

“We have reinspected the barn and other operations of this supplier, and based on these inspections and prior audits, we are comfortable with the animal welfare aspects of the operation,” the company said.

Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, said that cage-free hen housing was without a doubt better than battery cages, though not without problems.

He noted that an assessment by researchers in the Netherlands that ranked various types of hen housing for animal welfare on a scale of 0 to 10 gave aviary systems a 5.8, while cages were 0. “With companies like Costco,” he said, “it’s better to welcome them for taking the first steps rather than punish them for not taking the last step.”