In the debate over American chicken imports to Russia, the American press has uniformly glossed over or dismissed what the Russian side says is root of the problem: namely, American chickens present a significant hazard to human health.
The possibility that the Russians actually mean what they say has not even entered the periphery of the discourse. Instead, the spin America gets is that either Russia's poultry ban is in retaliation for US Steel import tariffs, or it's just another example of Russia's corrupt/bureaucratic/anti-American/anti-free-market culture.
What you probably don't know, however, is how dangerous American chicken really is, how seriously this threat is taken by a range of health and consumer groups within America (as well as within Russia), and yet how much influence the meat and poultry industry have over both the American government and media in order to successfully quash the debate while at the same time making our meat more and more dangerous to our health.
In August of last year, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit organization comprised of 5,000 physicians and more than 100,000 supporting members, filed a petition with the US Department of Agriculture to warn the public about the health hazards posed by American-raised poultry, and to urge the government take measures to clean it up.
Specifically, they called on the USDA to declare feces, which is prevalent in US chicken meat, to be declared an adulterant and therefore unfit for sale. They also asked the USDA to have a biohazard label attached to chicken meat warning consumers that the chicken is likely contaminated with feces and therefore foodborne pathogens such as salmonella, E. Coli and others.
In other words, American chicken is saturated in shit.
Mindy Kursban, PCRM's staff attorney, said, "Under current regulations, people can become ill and even die from eating poultry and meat that passed USDA's inspection because the current inspection system is too weak to protect consumers."
Did she say "die"? Yessiree! The Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year there are at least 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths caused by foodborne pathogens in the US. Eating chicken and meat contaminated with feces is the primary means for transmitting foodborne diseases to humans.
That's shit in plain-folks talk. Lots and lots of shit that we eat.
Part of the problem is the hellish overcrowded conditions that the birds live in, where they wade in each other's feces and vomit.
Then there's mechanization. Machines, which can kill 70 birds per minute (three times more than just 10 years ago), are supposed to remove the intestines but more often than not wind up ripping the birds insides, spilling shit on the body cavity and equipment. "Fingers" on the machines which are designed to rip off the feathers, also pass feces, vomit and blood from chicken to chicken.
Then there is "fecal soup." Thousands of dirty chickens are bathed together in a chill tank, creating a mixture known as fecal soup that spreads contamination from bird to bird. Consumers pay for this fecal soup when they buy chicken, since up to 15% of US poultry weight consists of fecal soup.
All of this takes place during a period in which oversight and regulation nearly vanished. In 1996, the Clinton Administration introduced new guidelines, the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program, which took federal inspectors out of the line and handed responsibility of oversight, including inspecting the amount of feces in the chicken... to the industry producers themselves!
What is the result? Drum roll please...
The incidence of salmonella-infected US chicken has risen from 29% in 1969 to up to 60% of chicken sold today.
Who woulda thunk that appointing an industry to monitor itself for health violations would, like, put profits over people's health. Isn't the magical free market supposed to take care of that?