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They use THAT to feed chickens?

May 20, 2013

When I started writing the blog for the Wild Ramp as well as the blog for the Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia, I needed to educate myself about the food industry, farms, and farm markets. I subscribed to a lot of news feeds as well as websites that send information to help me learn.internet-research

I admit I am biased. I was raised by my parents, a nurse and a pharmaceutical research chemist, to know what it meant to eat a balanced diet. I was told never to eat at McDonald’s or the other fast foods that sprung up in the late 1960s and I was told that Wonder bread was baby food, or as my mom put it, “store bought pap.” Like most people, I did not comply with everything my parents said.

fdachinesefood1As it turns out, my parents were right about a lot of things but they never foresaw how the FDA has moved away from its primary mission to protect the public health. They would be first in line protesting about some of what I have learned in the past two years.

As I have learned I have gotten more and more dismayed. I want to tell you about something I learned this week without this blog sounding like one more SCARY thing happening in today’s world.  I think we all hear so many things that scare us or anger us that we get a bit numb and feel lost to do anything about it.

So before I start I want to say there is an answer…and it is one that you can do.

So, the problem: It appears that the feeds that factory farms have been using for chickens, turkeys and hogs has, among many other good and some questionable things, arsenic. Yup. The word brings to mind an old movie about murdering people but in this case, it had been deemed to be safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

One formula for the arsenic is called Roxarsone.  It was approved by the FDA in the 1940s to help chickens grow faster,   kill stomach parasites, improve the color of the meat and result in bigger breasted birds and is still in most commercial  chicken feeds today. While the dose is very small, it apparently does not all pass through the chicken into its waste, although a lot of it does.

The reason this has become much more of an issue now than before is the way most chicken is raised today.  Factory farming is far removed from the idyllic image of a farm with a barn and happy animals all wandering around. That is what the farms that bring food to the Wild Ramp look like. Factory farms look like……factories, with the motivation to raise as many animals as quickly as possible at the least expense. Profit is the goal.

People who eat a lot of factory farmed chicken (the kind you buy at supermarkets and eat at most restaurants) tend to have arsenic add up in their bodies. People who live near factory farms and drink local water also tend to get arsenic in their bodies because the waste leaches from the large waste holding ponds into the groundwater and pollutes it.

This hit the news recently is that a group of nine consumer groups have filed a case in the Federal Court in San Francisco against Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg.  They state that the FDA and HHS knew about the issue in 2011 and have not removed Roxarsone and other similar arsenic additives from the animal feeds.  The article can be read here:

Some people say this arsenic issue means you should be vegan. But there are problems with chemical sprays to repel insects and weeds as well as genetically modified produce.  And chemicals that enter the water systems affect everyone. So it is not just animal proteins that have these food safety issues.  Basically, we need all our food to be safe to eat, no matter what diet you prefer.scary news

I did not want this newest irritant to my knowledge to turn into a rant nor did I want it to turn into another scare essay. We are bombarded by so many things to scare us from something. I think most people get numb to it all and give up.

But you should NOT give up. Making food choices can really affect your health. And, if your choices feed children, their health.

So, here’s what I did:  I figured out about two years ago, the only way to really eat healthy food is to stop eating processed stuff. To stop going to fast food outlets. To restructure my life and my budget to buy whole foods from farmers I know and spend time in the kitchen cooking so I can control the additives.

The expression KNOW YOUR FARMER is the answer. By understanding the farmer’s practices, knowing how he or she raises their animals and grows their produce, you can feel certainty that you are purchasing food that will be healthy for your body.KYF-logo

At the Wild Ramp market we know our farmers. Each producer is visited and their practices are explained in this blog.  In Huntington, West Virginia we are very lucky to have a market like this. If you do not have a source like this, ask the farmer at the farmers’ market. Ask them when you can visit. Ask them to explain how they raise their food. Ask open ended questions and let them talk. If you don’t understand, ask. And if they won’t talk to you, move on to another farmer.

Aimee Figgatt of Tyler Creek Farm says ” The feed we get is  locally mixed and is also locally grown and does not have these additives. Our chickens eat only grass, bugs and straight cracked corn grown in Mason County.”


Tyler Creek Farm

Barney and Annette Sigman at Twin Maples Farm don’t use any medicated feeds.  “In fact, the majority of the grains in our feeds come from Ohio and the border counties of West Virginia that do not  even distribute Monsanto varieties.  Ohio is one of the few (probably because of OSU and a strong agricultural heritage) states that still disseminates their own varieties of seed stock.” Annette also cautions that there are a lot of toxins that occur naturally in some of the plants that we eat but their feed does not have an arsenic additive.

Twin Maples Farm

Twin Maples Farm

Martin Schaffer of Four Seasons Farm is surprised that more people are not angry about the food they are offered in the supermarkets. “As a guy from Europe where it seems people are much more concerned about what they eat, I put an extremely high priority on what I feed my animals. Who does what I do? Having movable chicken houses and portable chicken fences? Who feeds grass clippings from orchards to their cows, goats, sheep, and pigs as I do? All this require extra work but I know the day will come when at least some people here will realize that all the food coming from my farm is far above average.”


Four Seasons Farm

Stephanie Appleton of Mil-Ton Farms reports “The feed store mixes our chicken feed per our recipe so none there. They mix their own hog feed and I doubt they’d use those additives.”chicken house layer

Stephanie Pauley of Pauley’s Rowdy Acres has checked her feed and says it “doesn’t contain any of those ingredients.  Our laying mash is mixed for us through our local feed store. We feed the chickens a little bit of the mash to keep their egg shells hard. Otherwise they are free-range and eat bugs and grass. We will be switching to a non-gmo chicken feed within the next two weeks.”DSC_0073


I started visiting farms for the blogs I write just about 18 months ago and knew next to nothing. I learned, besides a lot about the food, that farmers are passionate about what they do and love to share that passion with anyone who will listen. So ask…..listen….and learn……and live better.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    May 20, 2013 11:42 pm

    Excellent article in telling us about the arsenic feed. Isn’t it amazing to see that in getting their product to the market, they are contributing to the healthcare problem that is spiraling out of control? Know your farmer……..definitely! Know what you are eating!

    • May 21, 2013 12:16 am

      The more I learn, the more I learn I need to ask more questions. But there are many farmers who feel the same way. They grow their crops or raise their animals in a way that will be healthy for themselves and their families to eat.

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