The Chicken AND the Egg

Organic lifestyle expert Eliza Sarasohn — author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organic Living — tackles the ins and outs of living la vida organica

Conventionally raised chicken is simply gross and best to be avoided at any cost. These birds typically spend less than two months on the planet, during which time they’re crammed into warehouses so tightly that they can’t even pick fights with each other and force-fed to fatten them up as fast as possible. Chicken are routinely administered antibiotics just like cattle are (hormones have been banned in chicken since 1959). Their feed can contain arsenic to control certain types of intestinal parasites, and to promote growth and improve pigmentation of the meat. (While it’s allowed in the U.S., arsenic is banned in the EU and other countries as it’s a known toxin, causing cancer and hormone disruption. Many experts say there is no safe level of this chemical.)

Close to two thirds of the 9 billion broiler chickens raised commercially are routinely dosed with arsenic in their feed—that equates to 2.2 million pounds of the substance mixed in with chicken feed every year. The type of arsenic most commonly used, roxarsone, is considered to be fairly benign in the form in which it’s administered to the chickens. But it converts to the toxic form of arsenic inside of the birds, and it’s excreted as such (this is one of the reasons why feeding poultry manure to cattle is a problematic issue).
According to the EPA, long-term exposure to arsenic can cause cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, colon, and kidneys as well as serious immunological, neurological, and hormonal damage. Partial paralysis and diabetes can result from low-level exposure. The good news here is that some of the largest chicken producers in the U.S., including Tyson Foods, the nation’s biggest producer, have stopped using arsenic-laced feed. Expect to see more arsenic-free chicken as other producers heed the call for healthier poultry products.
Fortunately, organic chicken is raised without arsenic-supplemented feed and without antibiotics. Be aware, however that organic chicken might be raised in conditions you might not like; organic doesn’t mean free-range—these chickens can be cooped up inside just like their conventionally raised cousins since allowing them to eat freely outdoors can make them more vulnerable to picking up diseases.
Eggs from organically raised chickens are naturally organic products and are the clear choice if you want a completely organic food. If you’d rather your eggs come from hens that aren’t cooped up, look for cage-free or free-range eggs, which come from hens that have some access to the outdoors but not enough to put them at risk for diseases.
Don’t pay a premium for eggs with labels like “fertile” or “farm fresh.” Fertile eggs simply come from hens that cohabitate with a rooster. Farm fresh is a claim that just about any producer can make.
The simplest and planet-friendliest way to avoid these concerns is to cut down on the amount of meat in your diet. When you do eat meat, seek out the cleanest, most responsibly-rendered chicken you can find — the meat that is most likely not to have these issues (check out Local Harvest’s website for local CSA’s — Community-Supported Agriculture where you can even tour the farm to make sure for yourself that their chickens are treated healthily and humanely).

Related Articles:

Chickens in Suburbia: One Couple's Foray Into Urban Homesteading


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Organic Living by Eliza Sarasohn with Sonia Weiss.

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