The Truth About Dead Chickens

CHINA - consumes 4.7 billion chickens a year, most of them raised in battery farms. But what are the health consequences for birds and humans? Gaoming Jiang and Aimin Tang investigate the shady underbelly of China’s poultry industry.
calendar icon 25 June 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Battery farming was introduced to the villages of northern China 23 years ago, replacing free-range chicken rearing. All of a sudden, broiler chickens could be brought to maturity in 50 days (rather than the usual 200) and egg layers could produce nearly 300 eggs a year. One breed was a real “egg-laying machine” and it became known as the “288” – after the number of eggs it could lay in a year! These imported techniques were welcomed with open arms by farmers and scientists alike. Studying zoology at university, I even went on a class trip to see battery farming in action.

"One farmer, who lived close to a city, would dump dead birds into a disused well. The well filled up over several years, and now the stench carries for miles in the summer."

Now battery farming is the norm in China, but its problems are becoming ever more apparent. It ignores the birds’ real needs, and crams seven or eight of them into each square metre. Additives, antibiotics and drugs are used in great quantities to increase production and profits – not to mention hormones that are harmful to human health. And the farmers themselves will admit these problems, saying: “We’re not going to eat the chickens – we just sell them to the cities.”

Many chickens die in the battery farms, despite farmers’ efforts to prevent this. A large farm will house 20,000 to 30,000 birds, and every year an average of at least 1,000 will die. But what happens to all these carcasses? To find out, we conducted a survey in a number of northern Chinese provinces, and the results were chilling: 80% of the dead birds end up in the human food chain.

So how does this happen? One route is factories producing processed meat “sausages.” The dead birds are very cheap – 0.4 to 0.6 yuan (US$0.05 to US$0.07) a kilogram – and the bosses of small-scale factories are often happy to buy them. Villagers told us that you will find people waiting around the factories looking to buy carcasses, or farmers will sometimes have direct links to factory bosses. Sick birds are likely to be sold off at the same time. Just pluck them, gut them, cook them and mix in some starch and preservatives – all that is needed for one of these sausages.

Source: ChinaDialogue
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