“I’m a little worried about the bird flu,” my friend Kimberly told me. We had just passed a few tourists all wearing surgical masks—not an uncommon sight in Times Square.
“I’m not worried about actually catching the flu,” she continued. “I’m worried about what’s happening to our food now that they’re going to start vaccinating chickens.” She’d just read the news that a new vaccine had been developed to fight the disease, which has already harmed more than 48 million chickens in the U.S. and cut egg production by nearly 10 percent.
“I understand why you’d be concerned,” I told her. “But relax. You can still get your Chick-fil-A fix any time you want, without any bird-flu worries.” In fact, when the news broke, my team at Eat This, Not That! magazine immediately jumped on the phone with Carol Cardona, the country’s pre-eminent expert on avian influenza, from the University of Minnesota. We asked her about the impact of the new vaccine on our food supply, and about what to look for when grocery shopping. She had some encouraging, and important, advice—and while at the store, don’t miss these essential 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss!
BIRD FLU FACT #1
There’s nothing to worry about yet
If you have fears about there being vaccine antibodies in your chicken, stuff them. “No one is using the vaccine currently,” says Cardona. “The outbreak that we had in the Spring is gone, so that’s been eradicated. There’s no more infection in domesticated poultry at this time.”
BIRD FLU FACT #2
The vaccine is a tool, not a cure
…and will only be implemented if current strategies to contain the bird flu fail. What are those strategies? “It sounds Draconian, but the fact is, the faster the infected birds are depopulated, the faster the virus dies,” says Cardona. “It can’t live without a living host,” so the strategy is to separate and kill the infected birds.” The vaccine, on the other hand, would help protect the birds from getting infected, but it wouldn’t kill the disease. “It makes a less susceptible host, but they are not completely protected.” Plus, each chicken would have to be injected, an arduous process. “So therein lies the rub,” says Cardona. “It will be difficult to manage but it’s an important tool, if we need it.” Speaking of brutal measures, before you buy your next filet, read these 8 Shocking Facts About Your Salmon!
BIRD FLU FACT #3
There may not be anything to worry about—at all
Even if the vaccine is used, Cardona says you shouldn’t be concerned when you feel like chicken tonight, or an omelette. “You should be thinking that you’re glad you have a chicken supply and the vaccine is another tool to keep that supply coming,” she says. “The chickens you get from the grocery story are not vaccinated today. But if they were vaccinated, they’d have antibodies that would be suitable for consumption. Antibodies are different than antibiotics. An antibiotic is a chemical substance, the antibody is a protein. Antibodies are a natural way to fight infection. There’s nothing for the consumer to worry about.”
BIRD FLU FACT #4
Those antibodies are transferred to the eggs
“As mammals, we think of how our babies are protected when they’re born, and get antibodies from mother’s milk, right?” asks Cardona. “Chickens get antibodies from the yolk. So, yes, eggs could have antibodies in them. And there are already antibodies in eggs—and in you.” Knowing exactly when to eat your egg could lead to rapid fat-blasting—check out this essential list of The 25 Best-Ever Nutrition Tips for Weight Loss!
BIRD FLU FACT #5
The seal of approval matters
“As someone who’s worked in agriculture around the globe, I think anything inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service, a branch of the USDA, is good to eat—they inspect the poultry that go to stores.” That goes for caged hens or birds raised on a pasture, you name it. “You could raise it in your house on your backyard—however it gets to that weight and age, when you’re ready to eat that bird and sell it, in this country, it will go through an inspection process—it’s inspected by those USDA inspectors and they determine that it’s a healthful product for consumption. So as long as it’s an FSIS-inspected product, I’m good. Look for the USDA seal.”
BIRD FLU FACT #6
Same goes for eggs
Look for the USDA seal on eggs, as well. “There are different opinions about cages and the welfare of animals—lots of different factors to take into account,” says Cardona, “but as far as the healthfulness of the egg itself—that’s the fact I care about—look for the certification.”
BIRD FLU FACT #7
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