Around a month back I read a Facebook post which talked about how south Koreans mostly ate vegetarian food before the 1960s as most people could not afford meat or seafood of any form. Contrast this to its current positioning as “Carnivore’s paradise”. There is a strong link between meat eating and economic growth. In India too this is slowly playing out as many folks are slowly getting converted into meat eaters and existing non-vegetarians have increased the frequency of meat eating to several times in a week. As we become more prosperous as a country we will see more people consuming meat at a greater frequency.
Chicken Revolution (after white revolution?)
As we prosper as a country we are also receiving another big boost for meat eating as the cost of chicken has remained more or less at the same rate (Rs 140-170 for cleaned meat)for over a decade. This means eating chicken is becoming more affordable with every passing year and this combined with economic prosperity is leading to a revolution. In fact, the statistics over the past decade we are now consuming 3 kg per person vs 1 kg per person at the start of the decade so the rise of consumption has been rapid. This cost reduction has come about due to the transformation of the industry to a contract farming from being a backyard operation. This means that chicken is now reared in sheds with artificial lighting and this is bought economies of scale which is helping in keeping the costs in control and thus spurring consumption to new highs. If we see South Korea example then this means that this trend will only accelerate further and we will become a chicken nation!
Antibiotics and Growth Hormones
The contract farming has brought about the rampant use of antibiotics and other growth hormones being used rampantly used to ensure that the chicken matures and gains weight within 45 days instead of the regular 80-90 days it takes for a traditional chicken to grow in its natural conditions. The contract farming has meant that the farmer wants to maximize his returns this leading to rampant use of antibiotics: oxytetracycline, chlortetracycline and doxycycline (class tetracyclines); enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (class fluoroquinolones). Few of these are the same ones which are prescribed by doctors for humans. The problem is that as the number of days that the chicken grows up is less it means that we have a good percentage of these anti-biotics remain in the chicken itself when we consume. This means that we as consumes would develop resistance to these antibiotics and this has been proven by a study by CSE across a lot of hospitals from 2002-2013 than we are developing resistance to the antibiotics because of frequent exposure to them in the poultry and meat which we consume. This is apart from the growth hormones which are used to ensure that we get that thick juicy leg-piece of chicken. The chemical used is ractopamine and can cause increased heart rate and obesity. It has been banned in the European Union, China and Taiwan. But in India, there are not much regulation and these growth hormones are available easily to be used. Given this, it means that we are not just consuming proteins (new trend to focus on weight reduction) we are also consuming growth hormones which we are not aware of. The main aspect is no-one knows the long term impact of having these harmful hormones and residual antibiotics. This because India does not have regulations around what can be used to promote growth and even if regulation exists it is only on paper.My sense that one of the main reason why the cost of chicken has gone down (in real money terms) Given this it is better to avoid eating this stuff but what are the alternatives to the palate?
Slowly grown farm products
Given that most the chicken that we eat is now broiler variety it is 100% certain to be contaminated because they are grown via contract farms and incentivized for weight. This means we have to avoid all forms of chicken which we eat, except maybe the Country chicken(Nati-Chicken) which a few restaurants serve in specialized dishes. My own sense is that Lamb/Goat meat a.k.a mutton is harder to contaminate as the growth rates of them take longer time. This fact can be validated by the economics i.e. as the demand for mutton has increased the price has kept pace with it, so it should be a safer alternative. Regardless of this talk about red-meat vs white-meat, I think it is safer to consume mutton over the contaminated chicken. The safest alternative is to consume sea-food as this is naturally occurring and has almost no human intervention in its growth.
I have chosen to completely avoid eating chicken of any form in restaurants and home. If it all we eat chicken it is country chicken (which is 3x more expensive) that is home cooked. As a family, we have switched to sea-food (which is my favourite) or mutton instead of chicken. This is the best response to the unknown impact of eating contaminated chicken.