21 Jan, 2014 | Tom Michael
Bolivian Express talks to Nutritionist Veronica Cortez and Veterinarian Dr. Gina Muñoz Reyes to try and dispel some popular myths about chicken production, and find out what really goes into our food…
Nutritionist Veronica Cortez, however, tells us that the use of naturally occurring sex hormones, such as oestrogen and testosterone, is in fact legal up to a certain level. She also claims that the former —the female sex hormone— is frequently used in Bolivian poultry as it promotes the growth of more lean, tender tissue which is ideal for meat. So what could the potential effects of consuming this chicken be in humans? 'These legal levels of oestrogen', she tells us, 'can be tolerated by adults, but less so by children'. Excessive consumption can result in premature puberty, including acne and breast growth in young boys as well as girls—side effects which she frequently sees in her customers.This partial vindication of Mr Morales’ claims will likely be of little comfort to him, as these practices are in fact happening in his own country rather than in the US or Europe, but it does make one wonder what else El Presidente was right about.
All Cooped Up
The use of hormones, however, is far from the only controversy surrounding poultry farming. In recent years the internet has been awash with rumors, claims and accusations—from chickens being kept in tiny cages from birth and being de-beaked and de-feathered alive on mechanized production lines, to KFC creating mutant hens without feet, beaks or bones for the sake of saving on production costs. So are these simply myths born out of the public’s general ignorance of what happens to our food before it reaches our dinner table? Or could there be some truth to some of these stories?
Dr. Muñoz Reyes tells us that on all the farms she works with the birds are free range, and are only kept in cages at night. The fact that they are 'running around' during the daytime suggests that they are Food For Thought
not boneless, footless mutants being kept alive by tubes pumping nutrients around their bodies. The doctor also points out that it is untrue that they are de-feathered by scalding (as one story goes), although this does happen after they are dead. Hens on egg farms, however, do in fact have their beaks clipped to prevent them from destroying each other’s eggs—something which they will instinctively do to increase their own chicks’ chances of survival. However, Dr. Muñoz Reyes assures us that this is not painful; 'it’s like trimming your nails, they feel nothing as it is done when they are babies, and we only cut the tip'.
Food For Thought
Finally, with all this talk of hormones and other substances being injected intravenously, it is easy to forget about what may be entering the food we eat by more natural channels. To this day, arsenic-based food is still being given to chickens on US poultry farms to improve feed efficiency, with questionable effects when it enters the human food chain.
On this point, Dr. Muñoz Reyes is keen to assuage our fears. She points out that her job also involves advising farms on feeding, assuring us that nothing of this nature occurs here. 'The feed used for pollos parrilleros (chickens raised for their meat) is much healthier than those used for egg-laying hens, as the former are intended for human consumption. It’s just corn, soya and plenty of vitamins and calcium for healthy beaks and bones.' - Right, so they definitely do have beaks and bones then.
Overall, then; whether you’re concerned about genetically modified mutant animals or simply turning gay, bald and growing breasts; it seems that there is little cause for panic. The people of Bolivia can feel more or less free to keep enjoying their favorite food (as to whether the chickens themselves can feel safe, that’s a different matter). Just remember, 'all things in moderation' as the ancient Greeks would say; and don’t believe everything you read…