June 25, 2007

No Anti-Biotics Ever! But Those Darn Chicken “Houses”

So, in a part PR, part savvy-business maneuver, Tyson Foods will be introducing a line of chickens that are antibiotic free.

The company said fresh chicken raised without antibiotics was shipped to stores Monday and will be sold beginning this week in packaging that emphasizes that there are no artificial ingredients.

These chickens will cost more. Why? Well, after reading Michael Pollan’s wonderful Omnivore’s Dilemma, I learned (and you could, too) that the antibiotics are needed to keep the chickens alive long enough to get to the market.

Why the dramatically elevated risk of an early visit to broiler heaven? Well, in the book, Pollan actually goes to a farm in California that produces “organic” chickens that are, as the name organic implies, antibiotic free. What do we learn: There are 20,000 of them in a “long, low-slung” shed “with giant fans at either end” to keep the rancid smell created by that many chickens in one place at an only semi-nauseating level. And this is just a run-of-the-mill industrial organic chicken operation. Imagine what a Tyson's operation must look like (Pollan tried to get a peak, but, alas, all of the big boy chicken purveyors turned him down)!

He had to wear a hazmat-like suit to go into the shed because of the fear of infection which, because of such close quarters for that many chickens, “could doom a whole house overnight.”

It's little naughty details like this that make me never want to purchase chicken at the grocery store again. Tomorrow afternoon, in fact, I’ll be ordering a whole lot o' chicken, both whole and parts, from Misera’s Organic Farm in Butler, Pa. These birds receive no antibiotics, do not live in mega-crowded quarters, and actually get to go out and eat the goodies they really like to eat, like grass and grubs from the poop of cows—sounds gross, but makes for some darn good chicken, I can tell you that!

These are, from what I can tell, Salatin-style chickens, as in Joel Salatin, the owner and operator of Polyface Farms, a farm in Virginia where Pollan visited for one week to see how it operates. The effort Joel Salatin puts into running this farm – and the intellectual work needed to maintain a 100% sustainable farm with no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, etc. – is truly amazing.

In any case, Tyson’s move is one in the right direction. When they start investing in and supporting more farm’s like Misera’s, then I’ll be impressed

Speaking of chicken, I highly recommend this recipe. It’s one of our favorites.

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