Recreational Drug “Special-K” Found In ‘100% Natural’ Chicken

White Chickens in the Pen

Three consumer groups filed suit against the nation’s 3rd largest poultry producer yesterday for false advertising. Routine USDA testing found recreational drugs, pharmaceuticals, anti-inflammatories, steroids, banned antibiotics, and hormones in chicken labeled “100% natural.”

Special-K, it’s not cereal
Ketamine was first used as a recreational drug in 1965. Today, veterinarians use it as an anesthetic. Ravers and partiers know the drug ketamine as “Special-K.” It gives the user a speed like feeling when snorted, as well as powerful hallucinations, out of body experiences (for this it gets the name ‘K-Hole’), body numbness, slurred speech and in some cases temporary paralysis.

Sanderson Farms
Sanderson Farms, Inc. is America’s 3rd largest poultry company. They claim their chicken is “100% natural” and “nothing but chicken,” but according to a complaint filed by consumer groups in federal court in San Francisco, Sanderson’s chicken tested positive for ketamine (Special-K), steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as banned antibiotics including chloramphenicol, an antibiotic that can cause bone marrow suppression in humans, and a synthetic hormone. According to the USDA “hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry.”

What’s it doing in chicken?
The National Residue Program (NRP) of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) routinely tests Sanderson’s poultry for residues of specific drugs, pesticides, and other contaminants. Between November 2015 and November 2016, the FSIS conducted 69 separate inspections of Sanderson Farms in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas. The plaintiffs allege that there were “49 instances in which Sanderson samples tested positive for residues that are not “100% Natural” and 82 instances of “unconfirmed residues that cause concern, including repeated instances of pesticides.”

Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth, and Center for Food Safety obtained the testing information through the Freedom of Information Act. According to the Center For Food Safety’s press release, Sanderson Farm’s test results included:

  • Eleven instances of antibiotics for human use, including chloramphenical, which is prohibited for use in food animals.
  • Positive results for ketamine.
  • Ketoprofren, an anti-inflammatory drug
  • Prednisone, a steroid
  • Reports of two growth hormones: melengesterol acetate and a beta agonist ractopamine. Both are banned in chicken production.
  • Six instances of residues of amoxicillin, an antibiotic not approved for use in poultry.
  • Three instances of penicillin residue levels of up to 0.285 parts per billion, for which the residue regulatory limit is zero.
  • Positive test results for the pesticides abamectin and emamectin.

FSIS has the authority to impose fines or even close facilities if violators don’t comply with federal standards. It’s unclear what, if any, enforcement action was taken against Sanderson Farms.

What does Sanderson Farms have to say?
According to a written statement given to Bloomberg News, Sanderson Farms denies the allegations:

Sanderson Farms does not administer the antibiotics, other chemicals and pesticides, or ‘other pharmaceuticals’ listed in the complaint, with one exception. Our veterinarians do from time to time prescribe penicillin in FDA approved doses to treat sick flocks.

On the Sanderson Farms website, the company claims:

The truth is hormones and steroids are never given to chickens in any way. In fact, hormone and steroid use in chickens has been banned in the US since the 1950’s.

False Advertising
Organic Consumers Association, Friends of the Earth, and Center for Food Safety claim Sanderson Farms, Inc. engages in false advertising and is misleading consumers. According to their complaint:

The use of these drugs and other chemicals in raising and/or harvesting of Sanderson’s chickens indicates that Sanderson’s chickens, before they wind up in the Chicken Products, are raised in unnatural, intensive-confinement, warehouse conditions, and ultimately creates unnatural Chicken Products. Despite these facts, Sanderson markets and advertises the Chicken Products as “100% Natural.

Friends of the Earth deputy director Kari Hamerschlag said in a press release:

Drugs in our chicken is anything but natural. This scandal is a wake-up call to all the consumers who want healthier meat. The widespread presence of drugs in Sanderson Farms chicken reflects the excessive use of antibiotics and other chemicals used to keep animals alive in the filthy, inhumane, factory-farm conditions in which the birds are raised.

Farm Sanctuary.org – Flickr @Creative Commons

USDA – “Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms”
Center for Food Safety – “Nonprofits Sue 3rd Largest Poultry Co. For False Advertising of Drug –Contaminated Chicken”
Bloomberg – “There Could Be Ketamine In Your ‘Natural’ Chicken”
AgWeb – “Sanderson Farms Sued by Consumer Groups Over Ketamine Chicken” 

Feature image Fmajor-iStock