The Truth About Avian Influenza: What is bird flu? 

Avian influenza (AI) is directly affecting large segments of the poultry industry, but how does that effect you? Through your pocketbook, most likely, because the eggs and chicken you eat may become more expensive if this disease continues to spread. 

How is AI spread? 

It is believed that AI being spread through the feces of wild birds as they migrate to the northen states this spring. The wild birds show no symptoms but spread the deadly disease to commercial birds. Wild birds have four migratory patterns in the US and three have been infected with AI: Mississippi flyway (Louisiana to Minnesota), Central Flyway (Texas to North Dakota), and Pacific Flway (California to Alaska).

As of May 13, 2015 there have been over 156 avian influenza cases reported in 15 states with over 32.6 million domestic poultry being affected.

Avian influenza, chickensAt this time AI has affected the layer (egg) and turkey industry the most. Iowa has lost 10% of its poultry population or over 24 million commercial turkeys and chickens. Minnesota has lost over 4 million commercial turkeys and chickens.

 If AI is confirmed at a poultry operation, all birds at the farm, even in different houses, must be put down so that it can not be spread anymore. That means people’s entire livelihood could end in less than a few hours, all because of something out of their control. Avian Influenza is a real threat in some parts of this nation, and even though it only directly effects farmers, everyone should be aware of this problem. Because anything that affects farmers will eventually affect you through the food supply. Because it has been proven, if you eat you are involved in agriculture. 

There have been no reported cases of AI being transferred from poultry to humans in the United States, Canada, or internationally. It has also been proven that chicken is still completely safe to eat. 

The Truth About Free Range Chickens

If you have not seen the Geico Commercial about the free range chicken going on an adventure, here ya go.

It’s pretty cute and worth the 30 seconds, especially because this post addresses it.

Let me preface the post with this: while I am a strong advocate for commercial agriculture, I also believe in consumer choice. But I believe the choice should be made after educated research, which means the consumer should research both sides of the argument, not just one.

The Misconception

Free Range ChickensA lot of consumers like to think that free range means that the chickens have the unlimited access to do what our chicken friend in the commercial did. Travel as they wish, on a whim, to anywhere. But that is not quite the case.

The Truth

The USDA says, FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING: “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” The animal does not have to live its entire life outdoors, it just has to have the access to it at some point and time, whether it utilizes it or not.

A study in the United Kingdom found that out of a flock of 800,000 birds only 15% were observed outside during the daylight hours. This is because the open pasture makes them nervous since it provides no protection from sun, wind, or predators.

The Issue

The issue is that less than 1% of chickens are raised as free range, and in the future it will be almost impossible to raise enough chickens to feed the growing world population.

Poultry is the second most consumed meat in the world, not too far behind pork. Poultry is usually the cheapest meat for all the different countries. If all of agriculture switched over to free range chickens it would raise the price of chicken so exponentially, that very few people in developing countries would be able to afford it.

cage raised chicken. Free range chickens. Are cages humane for chickensConventionally raised chicken is often described in a negative way, but it is described that way mostly by people who have never been to a poultry farm. While I will admit that all areas of agriculture, have something they could improve on (because no one or nothing is perfect) I also believe that conventionally raised poultry at the majority of U.S. farms are treated humanely. I believe that because I have seen it with my own eyes.

In conventional laying houses most chickens live in cages that provide them with room to move around and spread their wings. An interesting fact about chickens is they will not produce eggs if they are stressed out! That means the chickens are comfortable and not stressed in these cages, or they wouldn’t produce any eggs.

If you want your chickens to be free range, that is perfectly fine because it is still a part of agriculture. But I want consumers to know the truth about what “Free Range” means for the chicken and for labeling purposes.

The Truth About Genetically Modified Food: Are GMOs Safe?

TGenetically Modified Food Is Safehe safety of genetically modified food is something that is debated frequently. When consumers want to learn more about GMOs the easiest thing to do is to turn to the Internet. When I googled GMOs the first nine links lead to articles that were against the use of GMOs, that means 90% of the articles a consumer reads are negative, but 90% of the field corn and cotton in the United States are genetically modified. I think the main reason behind this is because consumers do not understand GMOs: what they are and if they are safe.

Genetically Modified CottonDr. David Weaver from Auburn University explains the science behind GMOs. There are certain bacterium, Agrobacterium, that live in the soil, this bacteria attacks injured plants. If a plant is wounded, this bacterium travels inside the plant and injects DNA that takes over the plant and tells it to produce food that only that bacterium can eat. In nature this is called crown gall. Scientists took this bacterium and removed the piece of DNA that causes crown gall and put DNA for another trait into the bacteria. Then the bacterium gets injected into the plant, just like if the plant was injured in nature. In the case of cotton, scientists put a gene that codes for a protein that when expressed kills a certain insect that feeds on cotton. This protein is extremely specific, so that it is only toxic to a certain insect.

A second GMO is a gene in soybeans that protects plants from glyphosate, roundup. Roundup is a non discriminatory herbicide. Scientists placed a gene that resists roundup into soybeans this means that farmers can kill weeds and save their soybeans. One advantage of GMOs is that we can control target insects and not kill all of them. The main insect that used to affect cotton is no longer able to eat cotton because of the genetic engineering done by scientists.  Dr. Weaver said, “At one time, over half of the insecticides used in the whole country were used on one  crop, cotton. Because of GMOs that is no longer occurring.” GMOs have drastically reduced the amount of herbicides and insecticides used in the agricultural industry.

Now the thing that consumers worry most about, the consumption of GMOs. There are only three commercialized GMOs in the US corn, cotton, and soybeans. We can only eat two of these so we’ll address soybeans first, the main way soybeans are consumed in the US is through vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is a mixture of fatty acids and those fatty acids contain none of the products that the plant expresses to make it resistant to roundup so when eating it, you are not eating any genetically modified proteins and it is in no way harmful to humans or animals.

Genetically Modified Corn

The only GMOs that we, as consumers eat part of the protein product is corn. But we shouldn’t be worried about eating GMOs because they are heavily regulated by the EPA and FDA. To be commercialized GMOs must be demonstrated over multiple years through hundred of tests over years to be completely safe. Then they have to be approved by the FDA who has a low tolerance for anything that might be remotely harmful. These products have been examined to prove their safety, and research continues to prove it. There has not been a single case of someone dying from a GMO. So there is no reason to be worried about feeding yourself or your children GMOs.

The Truth About Antibiotics in Chickens

Consumers are worried about what goes into the food they eat. And rightfully so, if you’re putting it into your body you should know what goes into its body and why. After my post about the truth about hormones in poultry I was asked multiple times to write a post about antibiotics in chickens, so after a good bit of time (sorry!) and research from trusted sources I hope that this blog will help answer your questions about the antibiotics used in the poultry industry.

The different antibiotics used in humans and beef cattleIn a previous post about antibiotics and hormones in beef I discussed how the antibiotics used in animal agriculture medicine are usually not the same ones used in human medicine. This remains true for the poultry industry as well. A few of the antibiotics for humans and livestock are in the same drug class, but the FDA regulates these and establishes proper use levels along with withdrawal times. When used as directed by the FDA they pose no health issues. So there is very little possibility for antibiotic resistance because of being fed to livestock.

Antibiotics are used in the poultry industry to prevent and treat diseases. One common misunderstanding is that antibiotics act as growth promotants, but they do not. In poultry antibiotics simply dramatically reduce the amount of harmful and wasteful bacteria in the gut of a chicken. Antibiotics keep chickens healthy which therefore makes them more efficient in converting feed to energy.

ucm378110Ray Abner Director of US Poultry Business Unit and Global Strategic Accounts for Phibro explains why antibiotics are helpful, “When poultry encounter harmful pathogens, not only do these bacteria rob nutrients, but much of the chickens’ protein and energy intake must go towards defense mechanisms. This inhibits growth.” By using antibiotics to keep chickens healthy we are aiding in producing more of one of the worlds favorite sources of meat. Also by using antibiotics we are helping keep the poultry industry more sustainable. The University of Georgia did a study to see the impacts of going antibiotic free, ABF, in producing chickens Continue Reading