Prozac In Your Chicken? Thanks, China
    By Hank Campbell | May 22nd 2012 03:13 PM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Sometimes you set out to test for antibiotics but get a bonus; in this case, diphenhydramine, arsenic, and fluoxetine.


    Well, there is a science basis to some of what sounds pretty horrid in that opening sentence.  Small quantities of arsenic lead to fewer infections (be comforted that arsenic has a well-defined threshold where it is beneficial or harmful) and since arsenic is totally 'organic' it can just as easily be found in any animal on an organic farm too. Arsenic will build up in something like fingernails or feathers but it is not in the meat; if you are convinced it is, think of the paranoia about thimerosal, the mercury-containing preservative in vaccines, that remained long after it was known that it was not accreting in baby bodies.  Heck, the President of the United States was still claiming vaccines might cause autism in his 2008 campaign, but it was silly even then.

    So trace amounts of arsenic in feathers is understandable and okay, even if it sounds bad.  Caffeine too, we're not in the scare journalism business here at Science 2.0.

    But fluoroquinolones? I am not some shrill natural-fetishist, I get that fluoroquinolones are essential to treating serious bacterial infections, like hospital-acquired infections where resistance to older antibacterials has been acquired, but human resistance to fluoroquinolones can develop rather quickly.  They are illegal in chicken farming for that reason, yet there they were, in 6 of 10 U.S. samples despite being banned from the poultry industry since 2005.  We should be a little cautious about finding that in feather meal and, really, start looking in the meat too.

    And anyone in a Whole Foods buying organic food from China or any other country where there is no certification process already had the caveat emptor part of their brains removed and therefore I don't want to pick on them, but they don't deserve to be ingesting acetaminophen with their chicken just because they are gullible. When did being a chicken become so stressful anyway?

    Caffeinated chickens eat more, so they get bigger.  But stressed out chickens are tough, so they need to be calmed down with Prozac.  Arsenic keeps them healthy and...okay, I now want a hot dog instead.  Photo: Shutterstock

    To the public, there's simply a comfort issue - the precautionary principle is a moving target for each person.  I trust GMOs, for example, more than I trust food at an organic market even though I am more of a 'natural' food person than almost anyone I would meet at an organic market.  Most people shopping at organic markets have never killed, cleaned and processed an animal but if I had that kind of authority in my house every piece of meat would be hunted or raised by me (I do not have that kind of authority in my house, as my wife will tell you). Most people are not paranoid anti-business types about food; American agriculture has led the world in ethical standards, environmentalism and dematerialization - we grow a terrific amount of food on far less land than it would have required even two decades ago - but that is because most people regard the CEOs of food companies, and the scientists working at those companies, the same way they regard anyone; basically ethical, with kids of their own, who care about the world. Once that perception and trust is lost - and I am not saying it has been, trace amounts of something in feathers is not a sign of a corporate conspiracy - it is very difficult to gain back.

    Are farmers part of some evil agenda?  No.  I grew up in a farming community, we had chickens and steers and I had no idea what was in the feed.  I bet no one at the Agway where we bought the feed had done any chemical testing on the feed either.  Today, many farmers are even told what feed to use by the company buying the chickens, it's kind of a secret sauce to optimize deliciousness and cost, so they have little control. But farmers are the ones most likely to be implicated if there is a problem so they should be leading the charge to make sure nothing is creeping into farm animals.

    New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof spoke with Keeve Nachman of Johns Hopkins about some of their findings, who said, "We haven't found anything that is an immediate health concern. But it makes me question how comfortable we are feeding a number of these things to animals that we're eating. It bewilders me."

    Me too. The downside to any perception of the food industry not rigorously policing their own practices is not that Big Government will suddenly do it for them - that is going to happen anyway, government does not exist to shrink - but that consumers will begin to invoke the precautionary principle for good reasons and not the kooky reasons anti-science hippies invoke now.  Some companies have taken the initiative, even if it seems to be partly marketing. Perdue Farms doesn't use growth hormones, they proudly state - well, those are illegal, so that is what I mean about marketing -  and only use antibiotics when a veterinarian says a chicken needs it, not for growth, which is a good thing.  Still, perception will be hard to shake and if one part of the industry is implicated the whole thing will be. 

    'Better safe than sorry' will be a reasonable premise if the alternative is getting chicken from China that has Prozac in it.

    Citation: D. C. Love, R. U. Halden, M. F. Davis, and K. E. Nachman, 'Feather Meal: A Previously Unrecognized Route for Reentry into the Food Supply of Multiple Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)', Environ. Sci. Technol., 2012, 46 (7), pp 3795–3802 March 21, 2012 DOI: 10.1021/es203970e


    Aren’t you yourself doing a bit of scare journalism?  The prefix “fluoro-” sets my alarm bells ringing:

                Fluoroquinolone                        Fluoxetine (Prozac)

    And so I haste me unto Wikipedia to check them out, and acquire these formulae.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I think this structural representation of fluoxethine is a more accurate representation of its stoichiometry:

    I'm not out to scare anyone (I think) mine is a cautionary tale that if people can't trust the food manufacturer to obey obvious laws and guidelines, we will end up hiring government employees to enforce them.   These were trace amounts, not health concerns, and in feathers, not meat, but fluoroquinolones in poultry have been banned since 2005 so they really should not be there.
    Interesting article, fortunately I've never even seen nor would I consider buying any meat from China. Assuming of course, I am properly informed of where the animal was raised. One issue: " Heck, the President of the United States was still claiming vaccines might cause autism in his 2008 campaign, but it was silly even then." I wouldn't be so quick to call this theory 'silly'. Just saying.

    I wouldn't be so quick to call this theory 'silly'. Just saying.
    It is a silly theory. Here in Canada, people were under the same illusion even though MMR vaccines in our country never contained mercury. (Even DTaP, polio and Hib vaccines became mercury-free after 1997-98.)

    Aside from the well-known Danish study, there's similar but less quoted research involving 27 000+ children based in Montreal. It arrived at the same conclusion: there was no difference in autism rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated children.

    I appreciate the info and link. What I'm saying is that until there is a definite reason found for the mounting cases of autism, I don't believe it's the responsible thing to eliminate any theories. I raised 5 children, all were immunized. No autistic side effects. (No bias here).

    So maybe Lady Gaga music causes autism. At some point you do get to eliminate possibilities; autism and vaccines are arguably the most-studied hypothesis of the last decade, the initial work making the claim that set off the hysteria was also found to be fraudulent. Spending time continuing to study it means science is now engaging in cultural faddism and not science - if tomorrow, some crank claims genetically modified corn is linked to autism (after all, a lot of autistic kids eat vegetables) it would not be reasonable to say that should be investigated for 10 years at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I think that this article should have been called 'Why These Researchers and their Families Now Only Eat Organic Chicken and Eggs'. The link above in this blog to this article by Nicholas D Kristof in the New York Times says :-
    The pair of new scientific studies suggest that poultry on factory farms are routinely fed caffeine, active ingredients of Tylenol and Benadryl, banned antibiotics and even arsenic.“We were kind of floored,” said Keeve E. Nachman, a co-author of both studies and a scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future. “It’s unbelievable what we found.”He said that the researchers had intended to test only for antibiotics. But assays for other chemicals and pharmaceuticals didn’t cost extra, so researchers asked for those results as well.
    It turns out that arsenic has routinely been fed to poultry (and sometimes hogs) because it reduces infections and makes flesh an appetizing shade of pink. There’s no evidence that such low levels of arsenic harm either chickens or the people eating them, but still...Big Ag doesn’t advertise the chemicals it stuffs into animals, so the scientists conducting these studies figured out a clever way to detect them. Bird feathers, like human fingernails, accumulate chemicals and drugs that an animal is exposed to. So scientists from Johns Hopkins University and Arizona State University examined feather meal — a poultry byproduct made of feathers.
    One study, found that feather meal routinely contained a banned class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. These antibiotics (such as Cipro), are illegal in poultry production because they can breed antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that harm humans. Already, antibiotic-resistant infections kill more Americans annually than AIDS, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.The same study also found that one-third of feather-meal samples contained an antihistamine that is the active ingredient of Benadryl. The great majority of feather meal contained acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. And feather-meal samples from China contained an antidepressant that is the active ingredient in Prozac.
    The other peer-reviewed study, reported in a journal called Science of the Total Environment, found arsenic in every sample of feather meal tested. Almost 9 in 10 broiler chickens in the United States had been fed arsenic, according to a 2011 industry estimate.These findings will surprise some poultry farmers because even they often don’t know what chemicals they feed their birds. Huge food companies require farmers to use a proprietary food mix, and the farmer typically doesn’t know exactly what is in it. I asked the United States Poultry and Egg Association for comment, but it said that it had not seen the studies and had nothing more to say.
    What does all this mean for consumers? The study looked only at feathers, not meat, so we don’t know exactly what chemicals reach the plate, or at what levels. The uncertainties are enormous, but I asked Nachman about the food he buys for his own family. “I’ve been studying food-animal production for some time, and the more I study, the more I’m drawn to organic,” he said. “We buy organic.”I’m the same. I used to be skeptical of organic, but the more reporting I do on our food supply, the more I want my own family eating organic — just to be safe.
    I agree with these researchers, from now on I will also only be buying certified organic chicken and eggs for my family, not just free-range, as I have been buying until now. Prior to reading this I was more concerned about the chickens quality of life than the quality and content of their meat and eggs, but the latter now seems to be even more important, as if these studies are correct there could be serious, as yet unproven, health implications for us all.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Indeed, Helen, it is quite alarming.

    One problem, though, is that “organic” people treat anything that could be construed as artificial as if were leprosy (צרעת) in the Old Testament, which applied not only to people, but clothes and buildings as well.  So there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground, where one could obtain produce that has had some artificial input of fertilizers or reasonably well understood pesticides or fungicides, but not hormones, antibiotics, or some of the more aggressive modern substances.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    And the certification means nothing.  It is paying a fee and filling out some paperwork.   There is no surprise testing of organic farms and, in the US, 25% of imported organic food has been found to be completely bogus.

    I get that organic food believers care about their bodies - as do I - but they are being duped by marketing.  However, anyone who shops at a Whole Foods and claims to care about the environment while they buy organic food in the winter is blatantly lying to themselves. Given the huge increase in fertilizers and pesticides needed for organic farming, and the costs for shipping, it would be far better for the ecosystem to buy locally grown, organic is irrelevant.

    And for those of us who can, it doesn't get any more local than one's backyard! Too bad my growing season is only about 4 months long!

    Last summer after we were done hiking in the Dolomites, we rented an apartment from a neat family near Asti, Italy. The husband was a railroad engineer and the wife worked for a mayor whose office was in a historical castle, and they lived on a little 2 acre farm, where they grew cherries, berries, a wide variety of vegetables and raised goats and chickens.

    We ate something from their garden every night, and for a secluded spot, they had a great internet connection. Best of both worlds!

    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Sounds wonderful Enrico. I used to keep my own chickens, geese and ducks but could never bring myself to eat any of them but all of their eggs were free range, 'organic' (anything they could find) and delicious. We have since moved to a new location with quite a few productive fruit trees and plants but my husband has refused to let me have any free range chickens again, as they make a hell of a mess wherever they go, scraping the mulch about and literally eating or destroying everything they can find. 

    Geese are vicious, noisy, killing machines, so not really an option any more in this slightly more residential area and free range ducks are just sitting targets for foxes and dingoes, especially if they don't have a pond with an island in the middle to escape to, which we no longer have. 

    I think the next best option is to support one's local markets and find and check out reputable, local, organic suppliers, that's what most people around here do but this would be much harder for people living in cities. They would have to rely solely upon organic certification and as Hank pointed out, this can be a bit suspect at times. Still it might be better than eating the alternative, if it really is full of banned antibiotics, arsenic, tranquillisers, anti-depressants and caffeine! 

    Through my mother's many friends, I know and have visited in hospital, many older people that have had operations in recent years (as older people tend to) and then they have picked up terrible antibiotic resistant infections that have nearly killed them. Some of their limbs swelled to more than 5 times their original size, so that their skin split open. New artificial joints never really healed properly. Many had to live for months with intravenous, heavily restricted antibiotic drips and none of them have really fully recovered, they are all now semi-invalids. 

    None of these old people would dream of paying more for organic chicken, even now, because they are that tough, no nonsense generation that grew up during the second world war with rationing. Maybe it has nothing to do with the battery farmed chickens that they eat but you can't help wondering, after reading this article. Especially as the linked article in the New York Times says that "These antibiotics (such as Cipro), are illegal in poultry production because they can breed antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that harm humans. Already, antibiotic-resistant infections kill more Americans annually than AIDS, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America." We probably have even worse antibiotics and substances being fed to our battery farmed and even free range chickens in Australia!
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Nice to see you dabbling in fruit trees and alternate egg sources!

    Antibiotic resistance can come from unexpected sources. See
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