Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where to buy good poultry

We were asked recently where we would recommend to go to buy good chicken. Unfortunately, chicken is an especially "corrupt" meat, having more than any other animal product (about 100 years) of ever worsening factory farming history, which makes the industrial product especially bad and leaves us with very few real alternatives. “Hormone and antibiotic free” poultry can be found in some stores, but those are misleading claims: there are lots and lots of bad things about what goes into chickens, but hormones aren't one of them; artificial hormones are available for and used on cattle, but there aren't any available for poultry, so all poultry is "hormone free." Antibiotics, on the other hand, are used with poultry, so that would be a potentially substantive claim. However, are the antibiotics just being replaced with another pharmaceutical product that isn't any more organic but technically just isn't an antibiotic? There are so many additives in conventional chicken feed that we don't know if that's an option, but we're suspicious of any such claims from any corporate source. Even if it were true and substantive, “hormone and antibiotic free” still leaves a tremendous amount to be desired. To pick just what we see as the two biggest issues, we would want to see the chickens fed something other than pesticide-intensive genetically modified (GMO) feeds, and we wouldn't want chickens raised thousands to a confinement house without any significant fresh grass or grubs or other forage. We consider those pretty minimal expectations, but there's really no regular place to go and buy chickens that meet both those expectations. You can avoid the GMO feed by buying USDA certified organic, but then you're still buying confinement house birds from a very industrial system, and you're doing nothing to contribute to the kind of local, independent alternatives that empower communities to stand up to industrial abuses. Alternatively, you can find chickens raised by local farmers in movable range shelters -- not free range, but a huge improvement over confinement houses -- but those birds are almost always fed GMO grain that comes from the very same market pool as what's fed to conventional birds. (A straight-forward question to ask the organic-looking farmer at the farmers' market is if he feeds his chickens any GMO grain.  If he knows anything about how his chicken feed was grown and if he's honest, the answer to that question should tell you something of substance.)  So typically as a consumer the only options left today are either the chemical-intensive GMO grains (farmers' market) or the factory farm confinement houses (USDA organic.) Forced with one of those choices, we would probably have to choose the GMO grains, because small local operations at least carry some hope of future improvements. We would be very eager to support and encourage those producers to take responsibility for the grain they feed their chickens, though, or better yet find motivation to personally engage in that work yourself (instead of buying poultry/poultry feed.) Hopefully, if more people realize how bad things have gotten, some of them will be inspired to start growing their own grain on a small enough scale (maybe a fraction of an acre) to be able to withstand commodity pressures, and maybe that could even lead to some small surpluses to sell to friends and neighbors. We certainly believe that there isn't any good way to raise and sell chickens at anywhere near conventional costs, especially not without hardly anyone living on appropriately scaled (small), working farms anymore. As consumers we've consented to giving so much control of our food supply to forces so far outside of our control, that a lot of options have just disappeared, especially when it comes to grain farming and grain-fed animals like poultry, for which there are practically zero local options outside the commodity system. As communities and as individuals, we should expect our helplessness to lead to our exploitation, and that's where we're at.  Lest we preach too much doom and gloom, there are some much better options with grass-fed (ruminant) meats (especially cattle.) A partial solution to eating better poultry may be to eat less poultry (and less pork) and more grass-fed meat. We've got nothing against feeding grain to poultry, but the only easy way to avoid the abuses of modern grain farming is to avoid grain-fed animals, so animals that can be raised exclusively on grass (like cattle) at least offer some ways to avoid some of the worst abuses of industrialized agriculture. You might even think further outside the box and hunt wild doves or raise a domestic gray goose in your backyard.

1 comment:

Ellen Rathbone said...

Y'know, I've had many of these same questions! I started eating meat for the first time in 17 years about 4 years ago. Bought my meat from a local farmer in northern NY (where I lived at the time). Now in MI, I find it is difficult to find the "right" meat. Hence, I want to raise my own!