There are plenty of myths and misconceptions surrounding how food is produced, and the poultry industry is not immune to misguided consumer views on what is healthy and what is not; what’s fact and fiction.

At the Third International Poultry Meat Congress, held earlier this month in Turkey, a few poultry industry myths that are circulating in the country were examined. Some of them were new to me, others not so, so I thought it would be worth looking at them here as, while hopefully not, they may be coming to a consumer group near you.

Broilers are not chickens

The first to strike me was that broilers are not chickens!

Congress chairman, Professor Necmettin Ceylan of Ankara University, in his presentation Facts and lies in poultry meat production, referenced recent pronouncements, based on a misunderstanding of a foreign publication, that today’s broiler is not a chicken, and that this has caught the public’s imagination.  

The modern broiler is not a chicken because it is so different to “traditional” birds, some now believe. However, as Professor Ceylan pointed out, the domestication of the chicken goes back thousands of years and has been evolving over time. Today’s meat breeds may be heavier and consume poultry feed more efficiently, but they are still essentially the same birds.

And what has happened with broiler production is no different to what has happened in other branches of agriculture. Should we not drink milk from the modern dairy cow, he asked, or buy carrots from the vegetable market?

He also touched on use of hormones in poultry production, a common misconception worldwide. Because today’s chickens grow so quickly then they must be given hormones.  I’m sure you know this myth, so I won’t elaborate here, but what was new to me was that some consumers believe that if a chicken can be quickly cooked then it can’t be natural.

Then of course, there is the belief that chickens are pumped full of antibiotic growth promoters – which have been banned in Turkish poultry production since 2006.

Healthy option?

There is then the belief in Turkey that “village chickens,” as distinct from organic which are regulated, are somehow superior to commercially raised chickens.

But as Professor Ceylan pointed out, there is no regulation of village chicken production, you don’t know where they’ve been or what they’ve eaten or drunk. They could have been roaming near heavy industry and consuming and accumulating contaminants, yet these birds are promoted in butchers’ shops as being superior.

Oh, and one other point I’d almost forgotten – chickens cause cancer! If you don’t know how, I’ll explain, it comes out of their guts, of course!

Mutant seed

There’s also the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in feed, which leads to premature sexual development in males. Even if this were the case, Turkey’s GMO legislation makes use of GMOs in feed and food almost impossible.

The issue was also taken up by Professor Ismail Ceslik, medical oncology professor at Hacetteppe University, Ankara, who noted that GMOs were seen as a black sheep in Turkey. GMOs, many think, cause cancer, and this is somehow due to their DNA filtering into our own.

But, he said, we’ve all been eating chicken for a long time, and we’ve not started turning into chickens due to DNA transfer.

Unfortunately, however, industry research has found that myths associated with GMOs are not restricted to the general public and a high proportion of physicians in the country also believe that GMOs are linked to cancer and, perhaps more worryingly for the poultry industry, almost a third of obstetricians believe that poultry meat is unhealthy.

Debunking myths and misconceptions can be hard work, but becomes all the more so when those professions that have influence in nutrition decisions are not basing their decisions on scientific evidence.

I hope some of these examples may have brought a smile to your face, but they are actually quite serious issues, not only from an industry point of view, but also in terms of ensuring that the public is not only well educated, but also well fed.