The taste of your supermarket chicken hasn't changed, but its makeup has. That's according to a Humane League report out Monday that looked at the increasingly ubiquitous nature of "white striping" among the poultry sold in US stores. Bloomberg explains: Factory farming plumps chickens up on such an accelerated timeline that their own body weight becomes burdensome; to cope, the poultry muscle disease that results causes the birds to replace some of their muscle tissue with fat. The change is visible, at least when the resulting meat hits grocery-store shelves, with thin white stripes appearing on the meat's surface.
The white striping jacks up the fat content by 224%, per the report, and lowers the amount of protein by 9%. As for the ubiquitous part, the non-profit looked at 16 major chains in 29 states and found 99% of chicken packages examined had at least one breast fillet affected by white striping disease, prodding a rep for the Humane League to say, "Consumers just really don’t have a choice right now. ... If you wanted to avoid white-striped chicken, they’re just not offering it." CBS News notes that less than a decade ago, a study detected white striping in just 5% of chicken.
Among the chains whose poultry was analyzed: Costco, Target, Trader Joe's, and Wegman's, with a press release noting Walmart, BJ's, and Meijer had the "highest prevalence" of white striping disease. The report notes the birds' weight gain is partly due to the popularity of breast meat, which caused birds to be selectively bred for bigger breast muscle. CBS News says the National Chicken Council pooh-poohed the report and made a comparison between white striping and marbling in red meat. "White striping is not a disease. It is a quality factor in chicken breast meat caused by deposits of fat in the muscle during the bird's growth and development," said a rep. (Read more chicken stories.)