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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.
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.