One of the most long-standing and widely-held myths about chicken has been busted: hormones and steroids are NOT fed to chickens.

New research shows nearly 6 in 10 Australians believe the myth that chickens raised to produce meat in Australia are given hormones or steroids. Only 13 per cent of survey respondents were correct in their understanding that meat chickens in Australia are not given hormones or steroids.

The research also showed more than a quarter of Australians were making a move away from red meat consumption to chicken meat for reasons such as health, budget and the environment. 

Dr Vivien Kite, Executive Director of theAustralian Chicken Meat Federation (ACMF) said: “It’s time for Australians to get their facts straight about chicken meat production. Australian chickens are not given hormones or steroids in any way. Their size and robust growth occurs naturally due to selective breeding, animal husbandry and optimal nutrition.”

Modern meat chickens have been selectively bred to grow well and put on a lot more muscle, ie meat, more effectively than earlier chicken breeds. This breeding process has also enabled today’s chickens to convert their feed into meat more efficiently, reaching the desired market weight and quality more quickly than the breeds of chickens from which they originated. While meat yield and the efficiency with which birds convert feed to meat are important factors of modern breeding programs, so are traits such as robustness, physical fitness, reproductive fitness and resistance to disease and metabolic conditions.

Dr Sonia Liu, Senior Lecturer in Poultry Nutrition at the University of Sydney, says of modern meat chicken breeds: “The production efficiency and improved sustainability of today’s meat chickens is a combined effort from genetic selection breeding programs, better health and farm management practices, and advanced nutrition and feed formulation.”

Dr Kite said: “The industry hasn’t and doesn’t need hormones or steroids to achieve these improvements. Importantly, they are not approved for use in poultry meat production in Australia, which means that it is illegal to use them.”

 To explain how the long-standing myth might have come about, Dr Kite says, “In the 1950s, a synthetic form of the female sex hormone oestrogen started to be used commercially in some parts of the world to increase the growth rate of cattle and to fatten the young male chickens. This was at a time when there were no specially bred strains of meat chickens, and people raised the relatively lean males of breeds used to produce eggs, for the purpose of meat production. As strains of chickens bred specifically for meat production started to be developed, this practice became irrelevant, and the use of such products was discontinued in the 1960s in Australia. 

“Quite a few years later, media started speculating that the observed early sexual development in girls in Puerto Rico may be linked to the feeding of hormones to cattle and chickens, and despite the fact that subsequent investigation of the Puerto Rican incident discounted this theory, perhaps that’s where the hormone myth was born,” said Dr Kite.

Here are five facts about chicken meat:

  • More than 99 per cent of chicken meat consumed in Australia is grown in Australia.
  • Chicken has the lowest environmental footprint of all meats.
  • Chicken is a versatile and inexpensive source of dietary protein.
  • Cooked chicken meat is an excellent source of protein and essential nutrients, and including vitamins B6, B12 and niacin, and minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc.
  • Cooked chicken delivers more protein in fewer kilojoules than cooked legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds.

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