Lost appetite for 'instant chickens'

Updated: 2013-01-07 07:37

By He Na, Yang Wanli and Shi Baoyin (China Daily)

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"My mother always warned me that if I want to have healthy children, I should stay away from fast foods," she said. The topic has added resonance for Sun because she got engaged in November and is planning to marry in March.The deputy director of a large chicken farm in Henan province, who would only give his surname as Yao, said sales at his farm have seen a "notable" decline in the weeks following the reports.

However, he remained upbeat. "People read too much into these cases, but they have pronounced a death sentence on other companies in the industry as well," he complained.

Yao refused to confirm or deny whether China's chicken farms regularly use excessive amounts of antibiotics, for fear of inflaming the situation. He would only say that the industry is undergoing a process of increased regulation and that abuse is definitely not common on a national scale. He admitted that his farm does use antibiotics, but insisted that the levels are well within the national guidelines. He also emphatically denied that his company uses growth hormones in chicken feed.

According to Yao, the most prevalent strain of chicken produced and sold in the Chinese market is the same as in Western countries. When this strain was introduced to China from the United States in the 1980s, the birds took approximately 60 days to grow to a weight of two kilograms.

"Scientific research has helped shorten the growth period, which can now be as low as 40 days," said Yao. "The improvement has resulted in a sharp increase in the food supply, not only in China but also in other countries. Foreigners eat the same kind of chicken as we do - it is rich in protein and the birds consume less feed than pigs or cattle."

Zhang Gaiping, an academician at the China Academy of Engineering and an experienced researcher into the rapid detection of epidemics in animals, said the acceleration in the growth rate is one of the benefits of technological advancement.

"Would the rapid production of table-ready chicken be impossible if we didn't use some drugs to make them grow? The nickname "instant chicken" reflects a consumer panic about food safety. If the growth process is strictly supervised and the chickens are produced without the addition of substances that are against the regulations, consumers can feel easy about consuming them. It won't harm people's health because the chicken's growth cycle is short," said Zhang, quoted by the China Science Daily.