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I Wish I Knew Chicken Could Cause Cancer Earlier

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I Wish I Knew Chicken Could Cause Cancer Earlier

There are times when I see a subject that I just have to write about. Sometimes this compulsion is spurred on by my interest in the topic. Other times, it’s based on the amount of anger I feel when reading the title. In this case, it’s the latter that caused me to choose to write this article. I mean, how could one not feel angry after learning that there’s a connection between chicken and cancer?

Lend me your hand and I’ll guide you through some of the troubling details I learned upon conducting research. Don’t worry, this isn’t complicated stuff. You won’t need a science degree to understand this article. What follows is a cautionary tale. Watch your step.

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1. Arsenic? What’s that?

It doesn’t take a chemistry major to know that humans and arsenic don’t exactly mix well. Yet many farmers feed dangerous arsenic laced food to their chickens, which end up in trace amounts in the food you serve your family. Indeed, the “FDA says its own research shows that the arsenic added to…chicken feed ends up in the chicken meat where it is consumed by humans.” Before the FDA was really pressed about all of this, most people gobbled up the propaganda spewed by some farmers that arsenic in chicken feed never made it into the final product. They insisted it was expelled in the animal’s waste. Of course, it turns that this wasn’t and isn’t the case. I imagine you’d probably like to know where this all began. First, we turn to the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer…

2. How did arsenic make its way into your chicken?

Well, I suppose it isn’t Pfizer, per se, that laces chicken feed with harmful poison, it’s one of its subsidiaries: Alpharma LLC. After finally being caught red-handed (or whatever color arsenic happens to be), they agreed to stop distributing their carcinogenic chicken feed (known as Roxarsone) in the United States. That said, Alpharma made no promises of halting the use of this dangerous substance in foreign countries, unless explicitly told to do so by their regulatory agencies. A neat little legal workaround isn’t it? So, to review, how did this process work?

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3. Let’s review.

  • Pfizer, a company known for its prescription drugs and vaccines, gets into the food industry.

  • Their subsidiary, Alpharma LLC, produces an arsenic laced chicken feed known as Roxarsone. They are protected by the National Chicken Council.

  • Roxarsone is shipped to farmers, who feed it to their chickens.

  • The chickens are exposed to the carcinogen arsenic, and it never leaves their systems. You might remember how this poison used to kill many people in the past, including Napoleon.

  • Chickens are slaughtered, shipped, bought, and eaten by you and me.

  • Arsenic-fed chickens are being taken off of the shelves, but they still might be present in some locations (especially outside of the United States).

  • The FDA refuses to acknowledge that there is (or ever was) a problem.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this story helps illuminate the extent to which big business and corporations control the health of the general population. Pfizer, under the protection of the FDA and the National Chicken Council (lobbyists), was able to serve contaminated food products to us for decades with no consequences. I’m not trying to imply that the system is completely broken. I’m trying to caution you. This company was able to get away with this for sixty years, before finally being forced to stop.

The relationship between big business and cancer doesn’t end there. Susan G. Komen recently made a bit of a strange deal with oil companies in order to spread the word about breast cancer. To make a long story short, she’s essentially trying to fight cancer by working with an industry whose main product is chock full of carcinogenic chemicals. Oh, the irony. By giving these companies good press and associating them with cancer research, Komen might be perpetuating society’s acceptance for burning fossil fuels; which, in the end, also hurts the fight against cancer.

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Unfortunately, chicken is merely the tip of the iceberg. The more research conducted, the more we find that companies like Pfizer would rather cover up the use of questionable ingredients, than make a change for the better. Indeed, KFC and a handful of other fast food restaurants demonstrated this in relation to the presence of the carcinogen acrylamide in their potato products, refusing to list warnings to their customers in states not requiring them to do so. The argument made by their public relations departments was that acrylamide is present within many products. Therefore, the fast food industry shouldn’t be punished by having to be the only ones forced to advertise the presence of this carcinogen to their customers. A weak argument at best, but currently it’s enough to keep federal regulators at bay. It also makes you wonder: if acrylamide is so ubiquitous, and every industry is fighting against having to be the first ones to disclose its presence in their products, wouldn’t that mean we’re essentially being exposed to far more carcinogens than we should be? And all for the sake of a legal argument?

These last two example are meant to demonstrate that, while we’ve finally forced Pfizer to stop putting arsenic in our chicken, we’ve really only just begun the fight to ensure the safety of our food. To me, this sounds like The Jungle of the 21st century. Who will be our Upton Sinclair?

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Featured photo credit: Fried Chicken/ stu_spivack via flickr.com

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