Balance is Low on CBS's Pecking Order
â€śIs there a dirty bird on your dinner plate,â€ť wondered CBS anchor Katie Couric as she hatched a brief and biased news item centered around a new Consumer Reports study on chicken.
â€śBad news,â€ť â€śEvening Newsâ€ť correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi summed upon the December 4 program. Consumer Reports magazine found that the chicken on your dinner table is â€śdirtier than ever.â€ť
Alfonsi aired a clip of a researcher for the publication, Urvashi Rangan, complaining about an â€śastronomical rate of pathogen contamination.â€ť While Alfonsi did concede that the bacteria is killed when chicken is cooked properly, she added that scientists such as Rangan want â€śmore testingâ€ť on poultry.
Thatâ€™s not all Rangan and her employer demand of the poultry industry, however.
A USA Today report by Elizabeth Weise in the December 5 paper quoted Jean Halloran of Consumers Union, which publishes the magazine, saying that more regulation by the government is â€śbeyond overdueâ€ť and that the government is â€śnot doing any testing at all.â€ť
Itâ€™s not just Ranganâ€™s boss who has an agenda when it comes to the food industry. Far from being a dispassionate scientist, Rangan has a bone to pick with the food industry. In a March 2005 interview with the online environmentalist magazine Grist, Rangan was asked what â€śone environmental reformâ€ť she could â€śinstitute by fiatâ€ť if she had the power.
In her answer, Rangan complained about the â€śeconomics in this countryâ€ť being â€śall about the bottom line.â€ť The director of the Consumer Unionâ€™s Eco-Labeling Project added that â€śeach hamburger sucks up a half-gallon of gasolineâ€ť and that chickens are fed arsenic to get them â€śfatter faster.â€ť Rangan suggested â€śtax incentives for companies and people who make better environmental choices.â€ť
While arsenic is administered in chicken feed, itâ€™s not merely to plump up a bird. It also helps to ward off bacterial infection, Virginia Techâ€™s Susan Trulove noted in an Oct. 10, 2005, item for that universityâ€™s news service.
Of course, Rangan is neither a veterinarian nor bacteriologist. According to the Consumers Union Web site she holds a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in Environmental Health Science and a bachelorâ€™s in chemistry from Boston University.
In contrast to Alfonsiâ€™s brief, unbalanced report, USA Todayâ€™s Weise turned to experts at both the U.S. government and the National Chicken Council (NCC) for comment on the Consumer Reports study.
NCCâ€™s Richard Lobb told Weise that the numbers Consumer Reports released are â€śgreatly exaggerated.â€ť â€śThatâ€™s 500 samples out of 9 billion chickens slaughtered a year,â€ť Lobb complained.
Weise also noted that the Consumer Reports numbers are wildly different from previous studies conducted by the government. For example, â€śA 2005 study by the USDA and National Chicken Council found only 26% of 4,200 broiler carcasses tested were infected.â€ť