The Secret History of Meat
A Viva! Report
by Alistair Currie RGN, BSc
© Viva! 2004
"The flesh, including fat, and the skin, rind, gristle and sinew in amounts naturally associated with the flesh used, of any animal or bird which is normally used for human consumption." Definition of meat in Meat Products and Spreadable Fish Products Regulations 1984
Chicken nuggets originate in a commercial hatchery, incubated in vast ovens before the chicks emerge. From the hatchery, the chicks are transferred to a windowless, wooden shed where 30,000 of them are scattered over the litter floor. There they stay for six weeks, picking up infections like campylobacter, and spreading parasites and other infection among the flock. Together, they drop tonnes of faeces onto the litter – which is never changed. Almost all will develop leg problems – many will actually suffer dislocations and even fractures. Many will develop heart problems and diseases like bronchitis. The industrially-produced feed they eat is sometimes laced with antibiotics and other drugs to try to keep disease at bay – but still in that single shed, more than thirty will die every day of their short lives. Six weeks after hatching, the chicks are taken to the slaughterhouse and killed automatically, their throats cut and innards scooped out by machines.
To loosen their feathers, their corpses are immersed in a tank of hot water – contaminated with blood, faeces, feathers and whatever infections their skin carried. After butchering, the scraps of muscle and sinew still attached to their bones are blasted off with high pressure water and the resulting slurry strained through a mesh. After that, it is bound together with gums, flavoured with sugar and artificial chemicals, wrapped in breadcrumbs, heated up and served to you.
100,000 chickens die in broiler sheds in Britain every day. That means that on the day they are taken to slaughter, thousands of chickens are so ill they would have died anyway. Some of those diseased birds will become nuggets and some will become Sunday dinner. The people who eat them, however, will never know – and chicken is far from the only meat with a dirty secret . . .