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Big Chicken by Maryn McKenna

Review | Big Chicken book lays bare poultry industry processes

Overuse of antibiotics may not be news but did you know fowl food can cause urinary tract infections?


Big Chicken
by Maryn McKenna
National Geographic

How do you like your chicken? With antibiotics? Or with flavour? One is not directly related to the other but, as Maryn McKenna writes, drugs are the precondition for industrial production, and the meat from broiler chickens is bland – especially compared with that of their free-range cousins (France’s Label Rouge poultry, for example).

Taste aside, the routine (over)use of antibiotics in farming comes under scrutiny in this timely book, which addresses developments that affect us all. We learn how farming, in the United States, China and elsewhere, has been responsible for reducing the efficacy of antibiotics – and why the muscle-bound, fast-growing franken-chicken, once championed, is starting to be rejected.

Indeed, fence-sitting readers may be persuaded to pivot towards vegetarianism after reading the section “How chicken became dangerous”. Women who suffer severe urinary-tract infections will also be interested to read about the close matches found between multidrug-resistant strains of E-coli carried on chicken meat and those causing these UTIs.

Thankfully, there is an upside to all of this. McKenna tells of vaccines (which do not provoke resistance, but are expensive) supplanting antibiotics as protection against infection. Clearly, there will always be a price to pay for fowl food.