The Truth Behind “No Added Hormones” and Other Claims
Have you seen the new Foster Farms “skateboarding chicken” commercial that boasts “no added hormones”? It’s cute.
The two wannabe Foster Farms chickens dress up in skater clothes, hop on boards and cling to the back of a car while trying to chase down the Foster Farms truck. They’re pretending that they’re “fresh and natural” from the Pacific Northwest.
[UPDATE: Following this post, the commercial was removed from YouTube]
But alas, the truck driver points out that “Foster Farms chickens have no added hormones,” and the two are left behind. The final tag line and graphic reiterate that Foster Farms chickens are “fresh and natural chicken with no added hormones.”
As a mom, this speaks directly to my fears about my kid being launched into early puberty due to all the “added hormones” in her food. It makes me want to go out and buy Foster Farms simply because there are “no added hormones.”
Except, thanks to the ASPCA, I know that there are “No Added Hormones” in any U.S. chicken. It’s illegal.
In honor of national chicken month (who knew?), the ASPCA created this chicken label guide and launched a campaign to educate the public about the myths behind label claims like “natural, organic, humanely raised and free range.”
The ASPCA would like to help consumers understand which labels to look for and what they mean, as well as those labels and terms they should be skeptical of.
The animal rights group says those terms don’t necessarily mean a bird had a better life, and points to a survey conducted last year “that showed the majority of consumers feel it’s important that the chickens they eat be humanely raised.”
It’s been a big month for chickens.
Earlier this month, McDonald’s announced it’s transitioning to exclusively cage-free eggs. The Humane Society called it “a watershed moment for animal welfare” because, as goes McDonald’s, so goes the industry.
The chain already uses 4 percent of the eggs produced in the U.S. With plans to serve their popular breakfast all day, advocates say more eggs mean more of an impact on suppliers, who will have to respond with more cage-free birds.
The move, however, is not only a win for animal rights advocates and chickens. In this KPIX ConsumerWatch report, Consumer Psychologist Kit Yarrow points out that it’s also a win for McDonald’s image.
Consumers care a lot about the food they eat—not just quality, but where it came from. So, this is a big win for McDonald’s because it will greatly improve their image—and it needs it.” – Kit Yarrow, Consumer Psychologist
Big brands know consumers are attracted to claims like “cage-free” and “hormone-free.” The problem, as the ASPCA’s label guide reveals, is that these claims don’t actually apply to the chicken we eat.
Cage-Free: A meaningless, misleading claim for meat chickens because, unlike egg-laying hens, they are never raised in cages. – ASPCA Label Guide
The label guide is a helpful resource for the 54 percent of consumers who “strongly agree” that the chickens they eat should be humanely raised.
However, what about those consumers who are more concerned that the chicken they feed their family does not contain antibiotics or hormones?
While “added hormones” are outlawed in chickens, “added antibiotics” are not.
So instead of “no added hormones,” advocates say parents should be looking for “antibiotic-free” on the chicken label.
In another recent ConsumerWatch report, Kari Hamerschlag with Friends of the Earth explained that the wide-spread use of antibiotics in chickens is leading to negative health impacts on humans.
It’s a routine use that has given rise and contributed to the antibiotic resistance infections…. in humans. – Kari Hamerschlag, Friends of the Earth
Friends of the Earth released a fast-food report card that gave most big chains failing grades for their policies on antibiotics in the meat they serve.
While antibiotic-free does not necessarily mean the chickens had a better life, the ASPCA label guide does say “antibiotics are fed to animals on factory farms as a band aid fix for unhealthy living conditions.”
In the interest of fair and balanced reporting (or blogging as the case may be), I reached out to the “chicken industry” for their response to the label guide.
The National Chicken Council commended the ASPCA for their education campaign.
(We are) happy that the ASPCA is helping to spread the word that broilers, chickens raised for meat, are not given hormones and are not raised in cages. Those are myths we hear all the time. In fact, in our annual consumer survey conducted in July, 55 percent were extremely or very concerned about hormone and steroid use in chicken production, even though federal law prohibits their use.
There are no secrets. We have two detailed websites dedicated to the accurate, USDA approved definition of every claim. We have a Chick-o-pedia on our website and a detailed glossary of chicken terms on The Chicken Roost website. – National Chicken Council
In fact, the industry group’s Chick-o-pedia goes on to say that “any brand of chicken … labeled ‘raised without hormones’ or something like that … must also have a statement that no hormones are used in the production of any poultry.”
I didn’t catch any such disclaimer in the Foster Farms skateboarding chicken ad. But it turns out, I simply missed it.
In a statement, Foster Farms tells NewsMom:
The disclaimer is visible during the final part of the commercial when the packaging is featured. This disclaimer is also on all Foster Farms products in-store, as per USDA packaging regulations.”
In case you missed it, too, here’s a screen shot.
So why base an entire campaign on “No Added Hormones” when that’s the one thing that doesn’t set your brand apart? Foster Farms’ response implies it’s simply trying to educate the public.
Surveys have found that most consumers still believe that broiler chickens are raised in cages, with hormones and steroids, all of which are false. Foster Farms’ TV commercial to which you refer aims to reassure consumers that Foster Farms chicken contains no added hormones or steroids and contains a legally-approved, on screen disclaimer that reads, ‘Natural is minimally processed, no preservatives, no additives. Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones or steroids in chicken. – Foster Farms
Foster Farms wants to make sure you know that they’re abiding by the law. Though, a more accurate tagline might be “All U.S. chickens are raised without added hormones, including Foster Farms.”
#NewsMom Bonus Story:
While we’re on the topic, there is one other thing to look for when buying chicken. Juice.
This throw-back ConsumerWatch story highlights how you’re likely paying for more than just the chicken in your package.
To get the most bang for your buck, you may want to buy fresh from the butcher as opposed to pre-packaged. Otherwise, look for the bird with the least amount of juice splashing around the cellophane.
I wanted to direct your attention to an educational campaign that Foster Farms took on in 2009 and 2010. Foster Farms led an effort to educate consumers about the practice of plumping – injecting fresh chicken with saltwater. Foster Farms fresh chicken never contains saltwater, but some brands do. You counseled readers to buy from the butcher instead – but chicken from the butcher may contain hidden sodium as well. The best way to determine if the chicken you buy contains hidden sodium is to check the ingredients label.
More information about the Foster Farms campaign is on http://www.saynotoplumping.com/