Illegal Drugs in Chicken Feathers

Illegal Drugs in Chicken Feathers
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By testing chicken feathers for chemical residues, researchers aim to find out what the poultry industry is feeding their birds. The presence of banned drugs and a broad range of pharmaceuticals raises concern, recalling the time in which DES was fed to chickens for years after it was shown to cause human vagina cancer.

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Between 1940 and 1971, the synthetic estrogen DES was prescribed to several million pregnant women with the promise that it would help prevent miscarriages. Problems were first highlighted in 1953 when it was clear that not only was DES ineffective, but might actually be harmful. However, a powerful and emotive advertising campaign ensured that its use continued until 1971, when it was found to cause cancer of the vagina in the daughters of the mothers who took it. DES was also used to stunt the growth of girls who were predicted to grow “abnormally tall.” As one pediatric textbook put it in 1968, "excessive tallness in girls can be a handicap. It provides difficulty in the purchase of smart clothes; the victim is ineligible for certain sought-after professional positions such as air line hostess, and poses problems in selecting suitable dancing partners.”

But most people don't know that the greatest usage of DES was by the livestock industry, improving feed conversion in cattle and chickens. Within a year of approval it was fed to millions of farm animals, and although it was shown to be a human carcinogen in 1971, it was not until 1979 that all use of DES in the meat industry production was banned. Now, they just use different synthetic estrogen implants, but even now decades after DES was banned, we’re still seeing the effects, an elevation in birth defects even down to the third generation.

Arsenic is another human carcinogen that was fed to chickens. This time by the billions. The arsenic ends up not only in the meat, as I’ve talked about previously, but also in the feathers, which are fed back to the animals. See, a third of the bird is inedible. What do they do with billions of pounds of heads, bones, guts, and feathers? Fertilizer and animal feed. Feather meal is fed back to chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, and fish. Now straight feathers are not particularly nutritious, so guts, heads, and feet may be added for little extra protein, and manure added for those manure minerals. The problem is that feather meal used as animal feed could contribute to additional arsenic exposure in persons who consume meat.

This gave researchers an idea, though. By testing feather meal, they might be able to find out what else chickens are fed. “Feather Meal: A Previously Unrecognized Route for Reentry into the Food Supply of Multiple Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.” All samples tested positive for antibiotic type drugs, between two to ten different kinds in each sample, including fluoroquinolones, which have been banned for years. So either the poultry industry is illegally still using the stuff or it’s being used in some other animals fed to the chicken. Regardless, when the feather meal is fed back to the chickens they are getting exposed to this drug, which is against the law to feed to chickens, creating a cycle of re-exposure to banned drugs.

Then it just gets weirder. The feathers turned up with a half dozen other drugs: Prozac, antihistamine, fungicide, a sex hormone and caffeine. Why doesn't the poultry industry just say no? Evidently the antihistamines are to combat the respiratory problems from packing so many tens of thousands into the confinement sheds, and the caffeine helps keeps the chickens stay awake so that they eat more and grow faster.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Thomas Kriese via Flickr.

Between 1940 and 1971, the synthetic estrogen DES was prescribed to several million pregnant women with the promise that it would help prevent miscarriages. Problems were first highlighted in 1953 when it was clear that not only was DES ineffective, but might actually be harmful. However, a powerful and emotive advertising campaign ensured that its use continued until 1971, when it was found to cause cancer of the vagina in the daughters of the mothers who took it. DES was also used to stunt the growth of girls who were predicted to grow “abnormally tall.” As one pediatric textbook put it in 1968, "excessive tallness in girls can be a handicap. It provides difficulty in the purchase of smart clothes; the victim is ineligible for certain sought-after professional positions such as air line hostess, and poses problems in selecting suitable dancing partners.”

But most people don't know that the greatest usage of DES was by the livestock industry, improving feed conversion in cattle and chickens. Within a year of approval it was fed to millions of farm animals, and although it was shown to be a human carcinogen in 1971, it was not until 1979 that all use of DES in the meat industry production was banned. Now, they just use different synthetic estrogen implants, but even now decades after DES was banned, we’re still seeing the effects, an elevation in birth defects even down to the third generation.

Arsenic is another human carcinogen that was fed to chickens. This time by the billions. The arsenic ends up not only in the meat, as I’ve talked about previously, but also in the feathers, which are fed back to the animals. See, a third of the bird is inedible. What do they do with billions of pounds of heads, bones, guts, and feathers? Fertilizer and animal feed. Feather meal is fed back to chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, and fish. Now straight feathers are not particularly nutritious, so guts, heads, and feet may be added for little extra protein, and manure added for those manure minerals. The problem is that feather meal used as animal feed could contribute to additional arsenic exposure in persons who consume meat.

This gave researchers an idea, though. By testing feather meal, they might be able to find out what else chickens are fed. “Feather Meal: A Previously Unrecognized Route for Reentry into the Food Supply of Multiple Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.” All samples tested positive for antibiotic type drugs, between two to ten different kinds in each sample, including fluoroquinolones, which have been banned for years. So either the poultry industry is illegally still using the stuff or it’s being used in some other animals fed to the chicken. Regardless, when the feather meal is fed back to the chickens they are getting exposed to this drug, which is against the law to feed to chickens, creating a cycle of re-exposure to banned drugs.

Then it just gets weirder. The feathers turned up with a half dozen other drugs: Prozac, antihistamine, fungicide, a sex hormone and caffeine. Why doesn't the poultry industry just say no? Evidently the antihistamines are to combat the respiratory problems from packing so many tens of thousands into the confinement sheds, and the caffeine helps keeps the chickens stay awake so that they eat more and grow faster.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Thomas Kriese via Flickr.

Doctor's Note

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by anything coming from an industry that fed chickens literally millions of pounds of arsenic-containing drugs. See Arsenic in Chicken and my follow-up, How Many Cancers Have Been Caused in Arsenic-Laced Chicken?

The drugs fed to chickens are one reason used to explain why poultry has been tied to increased cancer risk. See Chicken Dioxins, Viruses, or Antibiotics?.

The most concerning drugs currently in the U.S. poultry supply are the antibiotics. See, for example:

Ironically, not only may antibiotics in chicken contribute to antibiotic resistant infections, but to the infections in the first place. Check out my video Avoiding Chicken to Avoid Bladder Infections

Then as if adding potentially harmful chemicals to the chickens themselves wasn’t bad enough, more are added in the processing plant: Phosphate Additives in Chicken.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

26 responses to “Illegal Drugs in Chicken Feathers

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  1. Just a general chicken comment…I hope someday soon people will stop buying them. Chickens get such a raw deal. If we don’t get em, then disease or heat stroke or a freakin fox gets em. They put up with …everything. Up to a point. They are tough, smart and curious… and dinosaurs! They communicate with each other and with me. Mostly its just tonal inflections but one time Henrietta said “Now really, would you drink that water?” and I had to clean up a bit. There was a night I put a laptop with skype going inside their henhouse and we watched the video stream. Very interrestig…So at night they walk around up in the rafters for the longest time and then settle into roosting spots. They just keep circling until someone settles out somewhere. Lacy always gets the best spot. She deals Black Jack. 5 cards or 21 pays double. Well now everybody’s heard about the bird.




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    1. Coacervate: I wanted to thank you for this comment. It’s only been in the last few years that I have developed a real appreciation for chickens. Part of that appreciation growth came from talking to a friend who loved her chicken as much as many people love their dogs. My friend’s chicken even learned to sit on cue. It made me think of chickens in a whole new way.

      Another part of my growth came from the dog training community where I learned that some of the best dog trainers go to “chicken camp”. At chicken camp, the trainers spend a week teaching their assigned clicker-savvy chicken to go through an entire obstacle course. Pretty cool!

      Now over the last few years I keep learning more and more about their personalities and my appreciation (and horror at how they are treated in our society) just grows and grows.




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      1. You’re cool Thea…well MY chooks talk to me all the time. I work from my shop, where they are not allowed but they coo and cluck outside all day long. I know when the cats are near or a stranger is coming. Recently I stepped outside with a cup of coffee in hand to talk to a visitor. Suddenly 3 of my little bantams flew up, one on my head and two on my arm checking out my coffee…right while i was in mid sentence. I never missed a beat and kept right on talking like nothing happened. We got the funk




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    2. One of my hens purred today. It is extremely rare for them to purr, and I guess she was particularly enjoying her dustbath. Then, her friend purred back to her in acknowledgment. I had never heard that before!! They are really emotional animals, but quite gentle. I was hand feeding them sorrel today. Some hens love to snatch pumpkin seeds from my fingers. Even more loved than corn is watermelon. They love it, but for some reason, they especially like the watermelon seeds.




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  2. Is tea tree oil safe in toothpaste? My natural toothpaste bought at the store
    contains it, but from what i know about tea tree oil, wouldn’t it hurt the gums and mouth nerves from longterm use? And what about carrageenan
    in toothpaste? It isn’t swallowed but the mucous membranes can absorb stuff.




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  3. How grotesk can it get? Did they have an explanation for the Prozac? Happy chickens eat more and grow faster…..? Looking forward to my vegan cajun dish tonight




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  4. It appears these studies are a couple of years old, why is this video posted now? Is there something new here? Do we know if these feeding practices are still used?




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      1. You’re welcome, Thea. Yes, the cocoa powder was the secret ingredient. When I first made this, I mistakenly added 1 tablespoon instead of 1 tsp lol but it still came out very delicious. This is really good with vegan cornbread, too. We gobbled this up in no time! :)




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        1. Sounds like quite the yummy meal. I’ve lately grown attached to mole sauce. This sounds like it is a bit of a mole chile – esp with the 1 Tbsp cocoa. I’m all for that!

          I was thinking that I would make the sweet potatoes a bit like Jeff Novick recommends for potato “fries”: bake potato in skin, then cut, then put under broiler for brief time so they can get crispy on the outside. I’m thinking that method might lead to a similar outcome to the recipe/video, but without the need for oil. But I don’t know…

          Thanks again.




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            1. I have typed out the recipe:

              Vegan Sweet Potato Chili

              Peel ? three orange fleshed sweet potatoes and cut up into
              thin cubed chunks.

              In a mixing bowl with chipotle, salt, olive oil, tossed on a
              baking sheet

              400 degrees roasted until chewy outside, tender inside 20-25
              min let cool down to room temp

              Base : Olive oil in dutch oven or kettle onions and garlic

              Jalapeño, cumin, ancho chile, oregano

              5-6 minutes

              Can of diced tomatoes add water

              Then high til simmer

              Add bit of salt and sugar, tablespoon of corn meal

              Teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa

              When it bubbles, let it simmer 30 minutes

              2 cans drained rinsed black beans-good kind only, not cheap

              Stir, Add in cooled sweet pat’s

              Add water if dry. simmer 15 minutes, taste and adjust. Add
              cayenne pepper?




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              1. Yes, that looks about right, but don’t forget your cilantro :) You can print out the recipe here: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Sweet-Potato-and-Black-Bean-Chili-2/Detail.aspx

                I didn’t have all the ground peppers on hand, so I used what I had, which was cayenne, chili pepper and Lawry’s Fire Roasted Chile & Garlic (it really took it up a notch lol). It’s a little spicy, so please use less pepper if you can’t handle it, and adjust to taste.

                Also, If you’re worried about the oil, use half called for, because this will make a pretty big pot of chili, so the fat in each serving will be very low (1/2 tbsp each). It doesn’t call for browning the onions, so you can water sauté if you like. If you’re vegan, you can use a non dairy Greek style yogurt in place of the optional sour cream.

                Sweet potatoes and beans are so good for you! Let me know how it comes out :)




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  5. I know this is off, topic (sorry!) but I’ve seen a lot of the videos on sea vegetables, and I was wondering if you had any information on mercury levels in seaweed? Obviously if it’s in fish, it has to come from somewhere, so should it be a concern when eating sea vegetables?




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  6. I get that we should probably not eat chicken. Whole eggs also seem to be a no no, but how about egg whites? I’ve looked through your videos and most of them are about whole eggs. What does the data say about egg white consumption?




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    1. Ursula: One of the more memorable lines from Dr. Barnard’s book on Preventing and Reversing Diabetes is, “There are just two problems with eggs: the yolk and the white.” So, what’s the problem with the white? Dr. Barnard talks about the problems that animal protein presents for kidney health. Other experts talk about the (strong in my opinion) link between animal protein and cancer. The question scientists then want to answer is: Is there a causal link? If so, what is the mechnaism by which animal protein might cause cancer?

      If memory serves, Dr Campbell in The China Study mentions several ways in which we think that animal protein causes and promotes cancer. Here on NutritionFacts, you can get a great education on how aminal protein is linked to the body’s over-production of a growth hormone called IGF-1. IGF-1 helps cancer to grow. To watch the series about IGF-1, click on the link below and then keep clicking the “next video” link on the button to the right until you get through the bodybuilidng video. Then you will have seen the entire series.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/igf-1-as-one-stop-cancer-shop/

      With all of the information we have about the harmful effects of animal protein, I think it’s best to stay away from egg white. Why not get your protein from safe sources? Sources which are known to have lots of positive health effects and will naturally give you a balanced amount of protein? (ie: whole plant foods) Make sense?




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