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Raising healthy chickens

From eggs, to chicks, to adults, chickens are checked for disease throughout the growth process   

Series of vaccines help to ensure product safety

November 24, 1997
Web posted at: 4:45 p.m. EST (2145 GMT)

CUMMING, Georgia (CNN) -- Poultry farms and hatcheries are not subject to regular federal health inspections, but the industry says the profit motive is all the incentive it needs to keep chicken farms clean.

At a plant in Cumming, for example, poultry farm chickens destined to be cooked in frying pans and ovens get their first vaccination before they're hatched. After 18 days in the high humidity of an incubator -- set at 100 degrees to simulate the warmth of a mother hen -- each egg is vaccinated against a viral ailment known as Marricks disease.

Three days later, life in the incubator ends as hundreds of baby chicks, within hours of one another, break out of their shells, stretch their wings and test their spindly legs.

Next for the chirping chicks is a conveyer belt ride that takes them to their second vaccine -- a vapor to prevent two other viral ailments, brochitis and Newcastle disease.

Now, they're ready for the farm -- actually, a huge barnlike facility where thousands of young chickens are raised in close confinement for 53 days.

While the layout looks like an overcrowded, breeding ground for disease, the poultry industry insists the method is safe, noting that no chicken diseases can be transmitted to humans and that the chickens consume anti-biotics put in their water and feed.

Although the chickens now have drugs in their systems, such medication is "withdrawn for a period of time, depending on the additive that's used ... before the bird goes to slaughter," says Kenneth May of the National Broiler Council.

CNN's Brian Cabell reports
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All additives must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and must not leave a residue in the food product. Growth hormones once given to poultry farm chickens have been banned for years.

Poultry industry officials acknowledge that salmonella, a bacteria that can cause food poisoning, may be present in large, open-air farms with earthen floors. But they insist it's part of nature and can be controlled -- even reduced -- by the time the chickens leave the processing plant.

The logic behind the precautions is simple -- diseased chickens are a waste of time and money. Raising plump, healthy ones are the only way poultry farmers can be sure they'll stay in business.

Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.

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