“Natural” chicken ripoff

November 3, 2007

The average American eats nearly 90 pounds of chicken per person a year for a grand total of 20 billion pounds of chicken.

Why? Because it’s relatively cheap, and we believe it’s healthy and natural.

But that chicken you bought at the grocery store might not be what the label leads you to believe.

The government lets chicken processors label their products “100 percent natural” even when the meat includes added ingredients. In fact, Americans pay billions a year for ingredients that may surprise you.

Those ingredients may make the chicken you eat not as healthy, natural or cheap an item as you think.

If you look closely at the labels of several brands of chicken, you’ll find not all chickens are equal.

“It says 100 percent natural on the label. I just think it’s fraudulent advertising,” Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., said.

Texas-based Pilgrim’s Pride is the largest chicken processor in the nation. The labels of its products, and some other producers, say “100 percent natural.” But in much smaller print, on about half the chickens Pilgrim’s Pride sells, you can find the phrase “enhanced with up to 15 percent chicken broth.”

But what does “enhanced” really mean?

Those are injection needles, pumping chicken with broth, salt and seaweed.

U.S.D.A. rules allow chicken processors to do this — enhance the chicken and still call the product natural.

“Chicken is chicken and if you inject water into it, it’s not natural chicken,” said Michael Jacobson, with the Center for Science and the Public Interest.

The enhanced chickens also contain something others don’t: a lot of added salt, sodium. In fact, in some cases, the enhanced chicken you buy has more added salt than a bag of potato chips.

A serving of “unenhanced” chicken contains about 40 to 65 mgs of sodium compared to more than 330 mgs of sodium in an enhanced chicken — that’s five to eight times more.

Pilgrim’s Pride points out the added ingredients are on the back of the package. Among them, something called “carrageenan.”

“Carageenan does come from seaweed. In that way it’s natural. But chickens do not normally grow with carrageenan in their vessels,” Jacobson said.

Carrageenan increases a chicken’s ability to hold salt and broth. And broth is cheaper than chicken.

“It’s costing the American public in excess of $2 billion a year in paying for protein that they’re not getting,” Cardoza said.

Most consumers don’t notice how much water and salt is in the product because it’s in small print on the front or on the bottom of the tray.

More prominent on the front of many Pilgrim’s Pride products this Heart Check, symbolizing heart healthy food, despite the fact that salt intake is a concern to heart patients.

“The Heart Association Seal on these packages that are enhanced that say ‘100 percent natural, endorsed by the Heart Association,’ are certainly giving consumers the wrong information,” Cardoza added.

The American Heart Association, headquartered in Dallas, says it is important for people to watch their salt intake.

Chief Science Officer Rose Marie Roberston, a cardiologist, defends awarding of the Heart Check Seal to Pilgrim’s Pride. She says it’s up to individuals to find out how much salt is in the product.

“It’s there on the label and we want to make sure that people pay attention to that,” she said.

Sanderson Farms does not inject its chickens, even though President Lampkin Butts says U.S.D.A. rules would allow it.

“The American Heart Association really has made a mistake to really allow the seal on these products,” Butts said. “We believe this product is wrong for the consumer.”

The U.S.D.A. is in the process of reconsidering what it allows an all-natural chicken to be, and how it can be labeled. Cardoza says that if the U.S.D.A. doesn’t enact clearer labeling, lawmakers may act.

Source: Byron Harris/WFAA/www.mysanantonio.com


One Response to ““Natural” chicken ripoff”

  1. Spencer Says:

    Wow, this is really interesting! I’ve never even heard of enhanced chickens. I’m assuming that a lot of other meats are treated the same way too now. I’ll definately be paying much more attention to the fine print when I buy meat.

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