Nutrition Action Healthletter


Sept 07:

Sept 07:
Pumped-Up Poultry

Jul/Aug 07:
Organic Food

June 07:
Menu Labeling

May 07:
Brain Teasers

April 07:
Saving Muscle

Pumped-Up Poultry Not "Natural"

Statement of Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson at a Capitol Hill press conference with Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) and Rep. Charles Pickering (R-MS). May 22, 2007

Vacuum tumbled chicken parts People shouldn’t be paying chicken prices for saltwater. But some unscrupulous poultry producers add as much as 15 percent saltwater—and then have the gall to label such pumped-up poultry products “natural.” Some in the industry euphemistically call chicken soaked or injected with salt water “enhanced chicken.” Of course this isn’t really about enhancing chicken, it’s about enhancing profits. Someone’s clucking all the way to the bank.

Needles inject salt in chickenAdding injury to insult is the fact that these “enhanced” products are much less healthy for you than the natural, unenhanced versions, because they contain up to five times as much sodium. Sodium, of course, tends to increase blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Americans consume way too much sodium as it is, and the last thing we need is more sodium tucked surreptitiously into otherwise low-sodium foods.

I urge the USDA to put an end to this deceptive-labeling practice and allow consumers to make informed, healthful decisions. I thank Representatives Cardoza and Pickering for focusing their attention on this issue at a press conference in Washington today, and for their efforts to help Americans save a little money on their grocery bills.


"Natural" Chicken Labels May Be Misleading

Byron Harris WFAA | KENS 5 Eyewitness News 05/09/2007 12:39 AM CDT

The United States is chicken crazy. We eat nearly 90 pounds of chicken per person a year.

Why? Because it's relatively cheap, and we believe it's healthy and natural.

But that chicken you bought at the grocery store might not be what the label leads you to believe.

The government lets chicken processors label their products "100 percent natural" even when the meat includes added ingredients. In fact, Americans pay billions a year for ingredients that may surprise you.

Those ingredients may make the chicken you eat not as healthy, natural or cheap an item as you think. It's arguably our nation's favorite bird. Whether grilled, baked or fried, U.S. consumers buy and eat it.

Americans eat more than 20 billion pounds of chicken each year.

But if you look closely at the labels of several brands of chicken around Texas, you'll find not all chickens are equal.

"It says 100 percent natural on the label. I just think it's fraudulent advertising," Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., said.

Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride is the largest chicken processor in the nation. The labels of its products, and some other producers, say "100 percent natural." But in much smaller print, on about half the chickens Pilgrim's Pride sells, you can find the phrase "enhanced with up to 15 percent chicken broth."

But what does "enhanced" really mean?

Those are injection needles, pumping chicken with broth, salt and seaweed.

U.S.D.A. rules allow chicken processors to do this — enhance the chicken and still call the product natural.

"Chicken is chicken and if you inject water into it, it's not natural chicken," said Michael Jacobson, with the Center for Science and the Public Interest.

Pilgrim's Pride declined to be interviewed on camera for this story. The company says that consumers say they prefer enhanced chicken because it's juicier.

The enhanced chickens also contain something others don't: a lot of added salt, sodium.

The enhanced chicken you buy has more added salt than this bag of potato chips.

A serving of "unenhanced" chicken contains about 40 to 65 mgs of sodium compared to more than 330 mgs of sodium in an enhanced chicken — that's five to eight times more.

Pilgrim's Pride points out the added ingredients are on the back of the package. Among them, something called "carrageenan."

"Carageenan does come from seaweed. In that way it's natural. But chickens do not normally grow with carrageenan in their vessels," Jacobson said.

Carrageenan increases a chicken's ability to hold salt and broth. And broth is cheaper than chicken.

"It's costing the American public in excess of $2 billion a year in paying for protein that they're not getting," Cardoza said.

We tried to find out what that means when you go to the store.

So we bought chicken in several North Texas grocery stores and then took it to the Kleberg Animal and Food Sciences Center at Texas A&M University.

They basically weighed the entire chicken package, then the water in the package, and then dehydrated the chicken in testing ovens to see how much water is in it.

The biggest brands in North Texas are Pilgrim's Pride and Sanderson Farms. Our tests found moisture in both.

These packages of Pilgrim's Pride skinless breasts and thighs contained moisture which represented more than 13 percent of the product, which in this case cost us about $1.25.

Our samples of Sanderson Farms skinless breasts and thighs contained about 9.5 percent water, which in these packages cost us about 97 cents.

Many consumers don't notice how much water and salt is in the product because it's in small print on the front or on the bottom of the tray.

More prominent on the front of many Pilgrim's Pride products this Heart Check, symbolizing heart healthy food, despite the fact that salt intake is a concern to heart patients.

"The Heart Association Seal on these packages that are enhanced that say '100 percent natural, endorsed by the Heart Association,' are certainly giving consumers the wrong information," Cardoza added.

The American Heart Association, headquartered in Dallas, says it is important for people to watch their salt intake.

Chief Science Officer Rose Marie Roberston, a cardiologist, defends awarding of the Heart Check Seal to Pilgrim's Pride. She says it's up to individuals to find out how much salt is in the product.

"It's there on the label and we want to make sure that people pay attention to that," she said.

Sanderson Farms does not inject its chickens, even though President Lampkin Butts says U.S.D.A. rules would allow it.

"The American Heart Association really has made a mistake to really allow the seal on these products," Butts said. "We believe this product is wrong for the consumer."

The U.S.D.A. is in the process of reconsidering what it allows an all-natural chicken to be, and how it can be labeled. Cardoza says that if the U.S.D.A. doesn't enact clearer labeling, lawmakers may act.


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