Balance is Low on CBS's Pecking Order
‚ÄúIs there a dirty bird on your dinner plate,‚ÄĚ wondered CBS anchor Katie Couric as she hatched a brief and biased news item centered around a new Consumer Reports study on chicken.
‚ÄúBad news,‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúEvening News‚ÄĚ correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi summed upon the December 4 program. Consumer Reports magazine found that the chicken on your dinner table is ‚Äúdirtier than ever.‚ÄĚ
Alfonsi aired a clip of a researcher for the publication, Urvashi Rangan, complaining about an ‚Äúastronomical rate of pathogen contamination.‚ÄĚ While Alfonsi did concede that the bacteria is killed when chicken is cooked properly, she added that scientists such as Rangan want ‚Äúmore testing‚ÄĚ on poultry.
That‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúbeyond overdue‚ÄĚ and that the government is ‚Äúnot doing any testing at all.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs not just Rangan‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúone environmental reform‚ÄĚ she could ‚Äúinstitute by fiat‚ÄĚ if she had the power.
In her answer, Rangan complained about the ‚Äúeconomics in this country‚ÄĚ being ‚Äúall about the bottom line.‚ÄĚ The director of the Consumer Union‚Äôs Eco-Labeling Project added that ‚Äúeach hamburger sucks up a half-gallon of gasoline‚ÄĚ and that chickens are fed arsenic to get them ‚Äúfatter faster.‚ÄĚ Rangan suggested ‚Äútax incentives for companies and people who make better environmental choices.‚ÄĚ
While arsenic is administered in chicken feed, it‚Äôs not merely to plump up a bird. It also helps to ward off bacterial infection, Virginia Tech‚Äôs Susan Trulove noted in an Oct. 10, 2005, item for that university‚Äôs 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 bachelor‚Äôs in chemistry from Boston University.
In contrast to Alfonsi‚Äôs brief, unbalanced report, USA Today‚Äôs Weise turned to experts at both the U.S. government and the National Chicken Council (NCC) for comment on the Consumer Reports study.
NCC‚Äôs Richard Lobb told Weise that the numbers Consumer Reports released are ‚Äúgreatly exaggerated.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs 500 samples out of 9 billion chickens slaughtered a year,‚ÄĚ Lobb complained.
Weise also noted that the Consumer Reports numbers are wildly different from previous studies conducted by the government. For example, ‚ÄúA 2005 study by the USDA and National Chicken Council found only 26% of 4,200 broiler carcasses tested were infected.‚ÄĚ