Think You're Eating '100% Natural' Chicken? Think Again
By Kari Hamerschlag
Many health conscious consumers are reducing their consumption of red meat in favor of chicken—especially products labeled and promoted as "100% natural"—believing they are a healthier option produced without routine antibiotics, artificial substances or other drugs.
Don't be fooled. A lawsuit filed today by the Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety against Sanderson Farms for false and misleading advertising, reveals explosive evidence of drug residues and prohibited substances in Sanderson Farms' widely promoted "100% natural chicken."
Recent tests conducted by the National Residue Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service found traces of human and animal antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and other pharmaceutical drugs that consumers and public health experts would hardly consider "natural."
In fact, 33 percent of 69 USDA inspections carried out in 2015 and 2016 at Sanderson Farms' factories in five states—including North Carolina, Mississippi Texas, Louisiana and Georgia—uncovered chicken samples containing synthetic chemical residues.
As the lawsuit details, testing results reveal:
- 11 separate inspections uncovered residues of antibiotics intended for human use, including 5 samples that found chloramphenical, which is considered dangerous to public health and prohibited for use in food animals.
- Traces of pharmaceuticals, such as ketamine, a drug with hallucinogenic effects; ketoprofren, an anti-inflammatory drug; and the steroid prednisone.
- Traces of a growth hormone, melengesterol acetate, and ractopamine, a beta agonist—chemicals that are banned in chicken production.
- Six findings of amoxicillin residues, a medically important antibiotic for human use that is not approved for use in poultry.
- Three instances of penicillin residues of up to 0.285 ppb—for which the regulatory limit is zero.
- Traces of four pesticides, including abamectin, emamectin, malathion, permethrin.
Some of these findings may sound small, but public health experts have long documented significant health risks stemming from cumulative toxic exposures in our environment and our diets, including low-dose exposures to hormones and chemicals that act like hormones in our bodies.
Residues and false marketing campaign are just the tip of an unsustainable, inhumane system.
These widespread residues are indicative of a much larger problem in our food system—the excessive use of antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs used to keep animals alive (and pharma companies profitable) while maintaining the filthy and inhumane factory-farm conditions that characterize industrial livestock producers.
The meat industry's overuse and misuse of antibiotics has profound human health effects, rendering these vital life-saving medications ineffective. As documented in Chain Reaction II, at least 2 million Americans each year contract antibiotic-resistant infections, and 23,000 die as a result. The economic costs of this are huge: up to $55 billion in excess hospital expenses and lost productivity costs.
While leading firms such as Perdue and Tyson have adopted policies restricting antibiotics use, Sanderson Farms is unapologetic and outspoken against the need to address overuse of antibiotics. Yet, its ads shamelessly pronounce that there are no antibiotics in the chicken—misleading consumers when the research shows clear evidence of antibiotic residues in their chicken products.
Rather than clean up its act for the benefit of its own consumers, Sanderson has launched a highly deceptive marketing and advertising campaign, which it dubs "the truth about chicken." Sanderson's campaign of deception includes 5 TV ads that have received more than 200 million total impressions on broadcast TV, and misleading messages promoted via Facebook, print, radio and its website.
As described in the complaint, in one of its ads, a character named Bob says that "the slogan "raised without antibiotics" was invented to make chicken sound safer but that it doesn't mean much because federal law requires that chickens be clear of antibiotics before they leave the farm. This gives the consumer the false impression that Sanderson's chicken products do not contain antibiotics. This video has been viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube and 700,000 times on Facebook. Just this one commercial has an estimated 89,745,934 impressions on broadcast television, at an estimated cost of $2,293,431."
In another video that takes place in a supermarket, Bob says that competitors used the phrase "raised without antibiotics" to get consumers to pay more money and that Sanderson Farms "doesn't believe in gimmicks like that." Bob then states, "No antibiotics to worry about here"—a patently false claim.
In fact, people who eat Sanderson Farms chicken, either from supermarkets such as Safeway or Kroger or at one of its big chain restaurant buyers like Darden (owner of Olive Garden), have plenty to worry about when it comes to the excessive use of antibiotics (and other drugs) in Sanderson's chicken production. While most people don't want a side of antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals in their chicken breast, they also worry about the public health threats stemming from the overuse of antibiotics in animal production.
And threats from excessive use of antibiotics is no gimmick. There is a direct link between the overuse of antibiotics on chicken farms and the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, as Natural Resources Defense Council's Jonathan Kaplan wrote recently:
"Routine antibiotic use breeds antibiotic resistant bacteria that can leave the farm on the chicken manure…on colonized workers, on vented air blasted out of poultry houses or in the soil or water, and on the meat itself ... Sanderson Farms is most certainly a part of this problem. The Food and Drug Administration tests raw chicken sold in retail stores for the presence of drug resistant bacteria and routinely finds multi-drug resistant E. coli on uncooked chicken, including on chicken raised, processed, and packaged under Sanderson Farms' control."
Sanderson Farms' videos, as well as numerous false and misleading statements on its website and in social media exchanges, show a repeated pattern of deceit. For example on its website, Sanderson claims, "100% natural means there's only chicken in our chicken"—a claim that's demonstrably false.
The lawsuit aims to hold Sanderson accountable and to empower consumers with the knowledge that there are indeed hidden substances in many Sanderson products. This leading firm is not selling pure "100% natural" chicken.
Companies like Sanderson Farms invest millions of dollars in false and deceptive advertising campaigns to persuade consumers they are getting a high quality natural product. That's because 87 percent of purchasers, according to Consumers Reports, are willing to pay more for products called "natural."
The case of Sanderson Farms' deceptive product promotions is a wakeup call for consumers to stay vigilant about claims in the marketplace—and to recognize that if you are not buying a third-party certified organic or third-party certified pasture-raised, grass fed, high animal welfare product, there could likely be a cocktail of drugs and pesticides in your meat.
Kari Hamerschlag is the deputy director of the food and technology program for Friends of the Earth.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Yellowstone Grizzlies Win Reprieve From Trophy Hunt as Court Restores Endangered Species Protections
- Wyoming Votes to Allow First Grizzly Bear Hunt in 40 Years ... ›
- British Columbia Bans Grizzly Bear Trophy Hunting - EcoWatch ›
- Good News for Yellowstone Grizzlies? U.S. to Review 'Flawed ... ›
- Judge Blocks First Yellowstone-Area Grizzly Hunt in 40 Years ... ›
By Alexandra Rowles
Oregano is a fragrant herb that's best known as an ingredient in Italian food.
However, it can also be concentrated into an essential oil that's loaded with antioxidants and powerful compounds that have proven health benefits.
- Essential Oils: 7 Common Questions Answered - EcoWatch ›
- 9 Ways to Boost Your Immune System - EcoWatch ›
- 15 Impressive Herbs with Antiviral Activity - EcoWatch ›
- Brazil Using Pandemic as Smokescreen for New Attacks on the ... ›
- In 'Totalitarian' Move, Brazil's Bolsonaro Removes Death and Case ... ›
- Brazil Passes 50,000 Coronavirus Deaths as Global Cases Top 9 ... ›
By Emily Grubert
Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bd9fda1316965a9ba24dd60fd9cc34d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/3KaMnkmf0tc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
What RNG Is and Why it Matters<p>Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can't charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.</p><p>Natural gas is almost pure methane, <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/" target="_blank">currently sourced</a> from raw, fossil natural gas produced from <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php" target="_blank">deposits deep underground</a>. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.</p><p><span></span>Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks" target="_blank">biogenic methane</a>, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for <a href="http://emilygrubert.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/eia_860_2017_map.html" target="_blank">decades</a>, in a form usually called <a href="https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biomass/landfill-gas-and-biogas.php" target="_blank">biogas</a>.</p><p>Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.</p>
Renewable Isn’t Always Sustainable<p>If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are <a href="https://www.nrel.gov/analysis/green-power.html" target="_blank">willing to buy renewable electricity</a>, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.</p><p>The key issue is that methane isn't just a fuel – it's also a <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/ghg_report/ghg_overview.php" target="_blank">potent greenhouse gas</a> that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.</p><p>And <a href="http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar7204" target="_blank">releases</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2019.07.029" target="_blank">will happen</a>, from newly built production systems and <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-methane-emissions-matter-to-climate-change-5-questions-answered-122684" target="_blank">existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure</a>. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That's methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.</p><p>To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won't contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2923" target="_blank">urgency</a> of climate change. The world's <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/" target="_blank">primary international body on climate change</a> suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.</p>
Scant Climate Benefits<p><a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab9335/meta" target="_blank">My recent research</a> suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as <a href="https://investor.southerncompany.com/information-for-investors/latest-news/latest-news-releases/press-release-details/2020/Southern-Company-Gas-grows-leadership-team-to-focus-on-climate-action-innovation-and-renewable-natural-gas-strategy/default.aspx" target="_blank">is publicly claimed</a>. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not <a href="https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/" target="_blank">emit climate pollution directly</a>.</p><p>What's more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.</p><p>When climate change first <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/24/us/global-warming-has-begun-expert-tells-senate.html" target="_blank">broke into the political conversation</a> in the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won't meet that goal.</p>
- Solar Employs More Workers Than Coal, Oil and Natural Gas ... ›
- The Truth About Natural Gas: A 'Green' Bridge to Hell - EcoWatch ›
- Why Natural Gas Is a Bridge Fuel to Nowhere - EcoWatch ›
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a list of 431 products that are effective at killing viruses when they are on surfaces. Now, a good year for Lysol manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser just got better when the EPA said that two Lysol products are among the products that can kill the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- EPA Warns Against Fake Coronavirus Cleaners - EcoWatch ›
- What to Do if There's a Disinfectant Shortage in Your Area - EcoWatch ›
For all its posturing on climate change, the Democratic Party has long been weak on the actual policies we need to save us from extinction. President Barack Obama promised his presidency would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow," and then embraced natural gas, a major driver of global temperature rise, as a "bridge fuel." Climate legislation passed in the House in 2009 would have allowed industries to buy credits to pollute, a practice known to concentrate toxic air in black and brown neighborhoods while doing little to cut emissions.
- Trump Neglects Climate Change in State of the Union While ... ›
- House Democrats Hold First Climate Change Hearings in More ... ›
- If the Democratic Party Is Serious About Climate Change, They Must ... ›
Bayer's $10 billion settlement to put an end to roughly 125,000 lawsuits against its popular weed killer Roundup, which contains glyphosate, hit a snag this week when a federal judge in San Francisco expressed skepticism over what rights future plaintiffs would have, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
- Judge Blocks California From Putting Cancer Warning on Roundup ... ›
- Bayer Settles Roundup Cancer Suits for Over $10 Billion - EcoWatch ›