Dining With Drugs

The California Chicken Café, an LA eatery described by the 2011 Zagat Survey as a “healthy, fast-food alternative,” is a popular place to eat. The food is so “good” Zagat concludes “there must be Prozac in the chicken.”

Actually, folks, there is prozac in the chicken—and a lot of other drugs.

Chicken Feed, Arsenic, and You

In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof reports on a new study from Johns Hopkins and Arizona State pointing out that in feather meal, a poultry by product, can be found arsenic, caffeine, Benadryl, fluoroquinolone antibiotics, and prozac. All these ingredients first appear in chicken feed. Arsenic is recommended for decreasing infections and making chicken flesh an “appetizing shade of pink.” About 90% of American chickens are fed arsenic (as Dr. Oz knows, it’s not just in apples.) 

Are These Findings Really New?

No. It’s been understood for over 20 years that drugs are all over the food and water supply—as another report today in WebMD by Kathleen Doheny makes clear. Washingtonians will remember when years ago Potomac River fish popped up with both testes and ovary. Oral contraceptives were found in the local waters, along with many other pharmaceuticals. What is somewhat new is recognizing how many drugs are intentionally added to animal feed. Antibiotics are well known feed additives—but not prozac, caffeine, and Benadryl.

How Chickens and People Deal with Stress

One curious factor is that caffeine is given to chickens to keep them awake—so they can keep eating—with Benadryl provided to calm them down. Stressed chickens give “tougher” meat.

In this way chicken breeders are mirroring human behavior and our “Up-Down Trap”. Many teenagers take loads of caffeine laced energy drinks to stay “up” through the day, followed by “relaxation drinks” to “come down” at night. In later years many may shift to alcohol as their preferred knock out drop—still perhaps the most popular sleeping pill in the world.

 Are All These Drugs in Water and Food Dangerous?

Who knows? Most of the testing done is in animals—one drug at a time. The tiny amounts of arsenic, or prozac, or antibiotics, are then found to be harmless.

Sadly, this is not an accurate means of testing. Enviromental effects are often synergistic. Collections of hundreds of drugs, even in miniscule amounts, may collectively have very different effects than what is seen in one by one clinical trials.

We should recognize this tragic fact from the bees. Recent research on Colony Collapse Disorder—with potentially horrifying affects for world agriculture—implicate neonicotinoid pesticides as furthering the destruction of bees, whose pollination is necessary for innumerable crops. Present doses of ninicotinoids do not kill the bees—and were thereby considered “safe.” However, they so change their behavior and capacities as to eventually kill hives, especially in conjunction with other "stressors"—parasitic mites, fungi, and different environmentally destructive agents. (Smokers should take notice that neonicotinoids use tobacco’s addictive substance as a fantastically effective pesticide.)

We may not know for a long time what these drugs in our food and water supply are doing. The EPA does not have major resources for such studies—and many politicians are agitating for abolition of the EPA. Perhaps they should think of what Kristof points out—that antibiotic resistant diseases now kill more Americans than AIDS. For this reason, many countries have banned antibiotics in animal feed.

Food Policy is Health Policy

American political debate pays great attention to health care and health care costs—presently perhaps 18% of GDP—but surprisingly little to public health. If the group led by Robert Lustig at UC Berkeley is correct, government subsidized High Fructose Corn Syrup is helping to fuel a childhood obesity epidemic that will ultimately lead to 30% of Americans becoming diabetic—and then bankrupting the Treasury.

Saving a few bucks on chicken meal or making for arsenic supported “appetizing flesh” may not be worth what it does to national health—and economic competitiveness.

Employers take note—through our American way of employer backed health insurance, you pay for the potential ravages of health caused by present food and environmental policies—as in antibiotic resistant clostridium difficile killing tens of thousands.

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

America does not have coordinated public health policies. We have an FDA that looks to drug companies for much of its funding, an EPA whose supposedly impartial findings are quickly “changed” by political concerns, (witness the recent mercury story) and a Department of Health and Human Services which is primarily focused on Medicare costs and benefits.

Lots of stuff then moves through the cracks.

Some of this will literally travel through cracks—breaks in rock formations from fracking. As I have written before, Food, Energy, Water, and inextricably linked. Health is a major accompanying issue when toxic hydraulic chemicals—pumped under intense pressure with mind-boggling amounts of water—are used to “frack” and push out natural gas and other hydrocarbons. Yet linking Food, Energy and Water—FEW—virtually never happens in government policy disputes, as each agency takes chare of its own little piece.

Which suits industry rather well.

Fracking may eventually be done with relative safety for the public health. Natural gas may then prove a better source than coal for our future energy needs, climate challenges, and public health.

But Kristof may need more than his suggested “prozac lacked chicken nugget” to allay his anxiety about food. Perhaps 100,000 chemicals have been added to the environment since World War II. According to the Economist, perhaps 200 have been well characterized.

Checked the hydraulic fluids in your water supply recently? Or just the prozac and lithium levels?

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