Blog Posting from Dr. Greg Martin – Setting the Record Straight on Poultry Production

I saw this post from a colleague in Pennsylvania, and thought it was worth reposting:

Just because it is seen in public doesn’t always mean it is correct…

Many times I will be asked “does this really happen in the poultry industry or on farms?” when folks read something online or see it on TV.  At times our industry will add to the confusion in their advertising to gain an advantage over their competitors by suggesting improper practices.  Once we discuss the real issue and explain the truth, then many folks will say that this make sense.  Some of the questions I get:

Don’t you feed hormones to poultry? No, it is against the law to give poultry and swine hormones.  And the USDA has strict rules inpublic statements made when making claims about its use in animal production.  Hormone therapy was outlawed back in the 1950’s for poultry.  To properly administer hormones to poultry you would have to pick up and inject a bird.  This would add time, cost and stress to a flock.  Because of breed selection, nutrition, health and management advances it was long ago realized that hormone therapy was not really needed.  So, if you hear a claim “we don’t use hormones” you have to ask yourself why do they wish to perpetuate the myth?

All the birds are produced on “factory farms”  In my thirty years of work with poultry I have not heard a shop whistle in a poultry house.  It is ironic since most of our common consumer goods and foods are produced with some type of economy of scale.  Toothpaste, tires, lumber, gasoline, vitamins, clothing & shoes, catchup, ice cream, mayo, chocolate, milk, humus, tofu, bread, TV, telephones, and diapers are all made in – you guessed it, a factory.  So why can’t a farmer gain some advantage by sizing his enterprises to pay for workers and equipment that are more efficient than those found on smaller farms?  A large six row combine can move through corn fields faster than a two row (yes some still in service) model when time is important.  So as a whole, family farms have grown in size, yet still stay a family farm.  There are discounts given to the farmer who can buy in bulk and single drop shipments, just like what is done at WalMart and Trader Joe’s purchasing & distribution hubs.  The other alternative that does work as well is very small farms that have few employees or other inputs.  Many of these are supported with outside help and inputs to keep them in business.  Pricing for the smaller farms is critical to their sustainability.

Brown eggs are better than white eggs  If you are using commercial brown egg layers, there is enough white egg layer bloodline in the bird to make them almost indistinguishable with exception of feather & shell color.  Shell color is one of the last things added to the egg, and unless you are eating the shells, you are throwing out the only thing that is different.  If you think I am kidding, soak a piece of brown shell in a cup of vinegar.  Chances are You would see the brown layer dissolve leaving a white shell behind.   Feed has a bigger impact on egg flavor characteristics, so some claims regarding feeding are plausible.  So why are brown eggs more at the store?  The birds are a little larger and eat a little more feed, so costs are a little higher for these eggs.  I like the color of brown eggs so I will buy a dozen or so every year.

Chicken is just full of antibiotics!  Wow!  This misconception is tough simply because yes, antibiotics are used in animal production.  I can also say that humans use antibiotics as well.  If you were sick with a bacterial infection, wouldn’t you want to use an antibiotic?  Well, farms both large and small will use antibiotics to treat birds that are sick due to bacterial infection.  Birds that are being treated can not be used for food.  There are strict laws on the withdrawal of all therapies before birds are harvested for food.  Antibiotics use on the poultry farm is normally in consultation with health authorities to ensure a positive result with the lowest use of drugs.  So are there antibiotics in the food?  No, not if they are following the rules.

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