KICK IN THE ARSENIC
The state legislature of Maryland acted last week to ban the use of arsenic-laced feed in poultry production. This may seem like a foregone conclusion—Canada and the European Union ban the practice, and arsenic is a controlled carcinogen—but if Governor Martin O’Malley signs the bill, Maryland will become the first state to outlaw use of the chemical in chicken feed. The law comes on the heels of multiple studies indicating the presence of arsenic in livestock chickens. An FDA study found arsenic in half of 100 tested chickens, and two studies by Keeve Nachman, a Johns Hopkins researcher, found arsenic in a poultry byproduct composed of ground up feathers, strongly indicating the presence of arsenic in the chickens themselves. (Nachman also found high levels of banned antibiotics, caffeine, and the active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl.)
These results weren’t surprising: additives containing arsenic—including roxarzone, a compound produced by Pfizer—are added to livestock feed to reduce parasitic infections. They also have the welcome side effect of promoting blood vessel growth, making the meat firmer and pinker. It has been alleged by Maryland’s Attorney General in a Washington Post op-ed that more appetizing meat is the real reason for arsenic-laced chicken feed.
Whatever the motivation, it is unclear whether the presence of arsenic in the concentrations found by the FDA has harmful environmental or public health effects. One Maryland delegate, Charles Otto, isn’t buying the rationale behind the law, telling the Washington Post that it “is a scare tactic,” and that the arsenic-free poultry “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.” The bill, however, is expected to become law, and the roughly three percent of US chicken that are raised in Maryland will be produced arsenic-free.
In light of recent economic woes, Uzbekistan is cooking up a new policy to boost domestic growth. Starting last month, Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported, the Uzbek government began distributing chickens to public sector workers as part of their salaries after cabinet ministers called for regional governments to amp up production of poultry, eggs, meat, and veggies. Poultry and eggs were given priority, and 20,000 chicks (at 5,500 soms, or $3, a pop) have been already handed out in Uzbekistan’s Vobkent district, and another 40,000 will be partially supplanting paychecks in other districts in the coming months.
The idea is that workers will each receive and tend to ten chicks a month, and in turn Uzbekistan will become more self-sufficient from the fruits (or eggs) of its own labor—a noble goal for a nation whose economic prospects are looking increasingly peckish. A report recently released by the Central Bank of Russia shows that remittances from Russia to Uzbekistan nearly doubled in 2011. On top of that is the country’s gas problem: Uzbekistan, a gas-exporter, has been experiencing serious gas shortages of its own, igniting protests and general angst among Uzbeks. And there is another key shortage playing a role in the Central Asian country’s current quagmire: individual economic freedom. According to the Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom, in 2012 Uzbekistan ranked 37 out of 41 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and well below the world national average, with Iran, Burma, and Libya not far behind.
But it turns out that the chicken campaign might in fact represent an increasingly restrictive Uzbekistan. While the government says the program is voluntary, some workers are saying they had to take the birds as part of their paycheck, whether they wanted to or not. Odil, a 32-year-old teacher, told Radio Free Europe’s Uzbek Service, “There is no way to refuse the offer; it was compulsory.” For workers already cooped-up enough in cramped apartment complexes, compulsory poultry would be a nightmare.
The government, however, claims that the campaign is voluntary and is calling to expand it beyond chicks. Next on the agenda: cattle-for-cash.
◊A recent study by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found E. coli in 48 percent of 120 chicken products purchased at grocery stores in 10 major US cities. The Committee advocates a vegetarian diet, among other suggestions, to avoid contamination.
◊Trend Watch: The Wall Street Journal reported that as of late consumers are “clucking for more dark meat”—touted by TV cooking shows (and Chipotle) as richer in flavor and softer in texture than its whiter counterpart. Whole Foods has recently found itself “wrestling with an unsual shortage of thighs.”
◊Last week, Herman Cain released the latest in a string of bizarre videos, this one entitled “Chicken” and seemingly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. The one-minute clip shows a man in overalls (“the average American taxpayer,” a creepy child voiceover informs us) who, while feeding his chickens (“feeding big government”) is attacked and pecked to death.
◊It’s spring, and egg vendors in the Chinese city of Dongyang are cooking up a seasonal snack favored by the locals—urine-soaked eggs. According to Reuters, buckets of boys’ urine are collected from primary school toilets to prepare the fragrant “virgin boy eggs”—believed to have numerous health benefits. “If you eat this, you will not get heat stroke,” one resident reported.
◊KFC Thailand apologized for what many considered an insensitive and opportunistic Facebook post, but not before hundreds of angry users expressed their disdain for the fast food chain. The commenters were responding to a less than tactful reminder posted by the company in the wake of a huge earthquake in Indonesia: “Let’s hurry home and follow the earthquake news. And don’t forget to order your favorite KFC menu.”