The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minneapolis has a new report out that summarizes research on hormones in the food supply, of which there are many: arsenic growth promoters, recombinant bovine growth hormone, synthetic hormones in packaging (plasticizers, bisphenol A), and industrial contaminants (dioxins, PCBs, etc). Never has the statement “more research needed” made more sense. Plenty of uncertainties still remain about how much, if any, harm is caused by these substances, but while waiting for that research, IATP advises: avoid. How? Eat low-fat meat and dairy foods (these chemicals are stored in fatty tissues) and organics (these should be free of hormone-like substances or have much less), don’t use plastic containers made with bisphenol A, and get busy on changing policy!
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In a full-page ad in today’s New York Times, Tyson Foods announces that all of its Tyson brand fresh chicken will be raised without antibiotics and marketed as “100% All Natural Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics–No Hormones Administered and No Artificial Ingredients.”
Tyson deserves applause for taking an important step toward greater food safety. Use of antibiotics as growth promoters increases chicken growth rates by about 10%, but non-therapeutic use of antibiotics increases antibiotic resistance in chicken bacteria. Resistant bacteria can spread to poultry workers, their families, and beyond, meaning that if the bacteria make people sick, the antibiotics will be useless as treatment. Tyson is a huge company that sells more than $26 billion worth of beef, chicken, and pork annually. If it eliminates non-therapeutic antibiotics, other companies may be encouraged to do the same.
The ad implies that only Tyson brand chicken is eliminating antibiotics and that its traditional chicken–undoubtedly the vast majority of what it produces–will continue to be treated with these drugs. If so, Tyson is positioning this particular chicken as a premium brand quite likely to be sold at a premium price. Watch for this at your grocery store.
As for No Hormones Administered: A footnote in tiny print at the bottom of the illustrated package label says “federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in chicken.” Chickens are never treated with hormones anyway.
Finally, “100% All Natural” simply means that the chicken has no artificial ingredients and is minimally processed. It does NOT mean that the chicken is Certified Organic or that the chickens are raised under uncrowded conditions, an issue I discuss in the What to Eat chapter titled “Meat: Organic versus “Natural.”
Take a look at the ad and tell me what you think.