BOOK FESTIVAL – Maryn McKenna tells the truth about chickens



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Simon Preston is a food innovator and co-presenter of Kitchen Cafe, BBC Radio Scotland’s weekly food programme. Today, he is interviewing Maryn McKenna about her new book, Plucked, The Truth About Chickens.

However, this book is far from his normal territory and contains no recipes for fricassee or any other spatchcocked delight. Maryn McKenna has spent four years researching, investigating and writing about the frightening use of antibiotics in animal production.

Why did she do this? Simply, her love for delicious wholesome, healthy, well looked after chicken – as well as her quest as an investigative journalist who specialises in public health, global health and food policy.

“We give four times as many antibiotics to animals as we do humans” McKenna announces to the focused audience.

During the interview, it becomes apparent that McKenna is genuinely worried about the overuse of antibiotics in animal production, the link this has to antibiotic resistant bacteria, disease outbreaks and the real possibility of returning to a world similar to that of a pre-antibiotic era.

After listening to her describe her findings, I find myself rather worried too.

“Scientists discovered that adding antibiotics to feed allowed those animals to convert feed to flesh more efficiently.” she explains.

Chickens have already been dramatically changed from their skinny forefathers through selective breeding to bigger, more docile, slower moving, top heavy creatures. The benefits of antibiotic laced food facilitated an even bigger shift in both bird size and their ability to be housed alongside thousands of other chickens without suffering from illness.

This success with chickens was soon copied by other meat rearing industries. “At this moment, most meat animals, across most of the planet are raised with the assistance of doses of antibiotics on most days of their lives… antibiotics are routinely fed to healthy animals.”

In the book, McKenna explores and exposes the impact of industrialised farming on the environment and human health. She navigates some of the shocking political pressures on past governments by industry including the prevention of the FDA in the US to investigate the risks to human health, for some 25 years.

In this compelling uncloaking of truths, McKenna delivers some hope by citing many people and organisations who are successfully rearing antibiotic free ethically raised ‘safe’ meat. However, the book carries an overall stark warning about the future and a message of needed change.

Published by Little, Brown in the UK and by National Geographic in the US. Plucked, is a book that should be read by everyone who cares about what they eat and the part we can play in demanding better quality food for ourselves and our future generations.