Poultry industry faces fowl problem

April 13, 2016

During its ongoing quest to grow larger chickens that fulfill the demand of white meat, the poultry industry has run into an unexpected problem: an emerging phenomenon known as "woody breast."

While it's not harmful to humans, the condition causes chicken breasts to be tougher because of hard or woody fibers that lace the meat. This causes the meat to be tough and chewy, and as one consumer described it, the meat “doesn’t feel right in the mouth.”

According to reports, as much as 10% of boneless and skinless chicken breasts sold today shows signs of woody breast, which is prompting the poultry industry to turn its resources toward figuring out what exactly is going on.

"The causes at this point are unknown, which is why the industry is spending more than a quarter of a million dollars on four separate research projects through the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association to have all of these questions answered," Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, said in a recent article.

One potential culprit may lie in how the poultry industry has “supersized” itself by breeding chickens that are now more than twice as large as they were in the 1920s. According to the National Chicken Council, back then, the average chicken weighed two and a half pounds. This compares to six pounds that the average chicken weighs today.

Breeding for bigger, faster-growing chickens could be tied to the emergence of woody breast, Massimiliano Petracci, a food scientist at Italy’s University of Bologna, said in the article.

“It is [harder], and also more elastic, so you have to put more energy in to chew on this kind of meat,” Petracci added.

While it's unappetizing to diners, the article explains that emergence of woody breast isn't a catastrophic yet. However, it could spell financial problems for chicken producers in the future if they are forced to sell this meat at a lower price, or return to breeding smaller birds in an effort to eliminate the problem.

"Chicken companies will have employees in processing plants looking at every piece of breast meat for any quality issues," Super said. "If found, affected meat is pulled from the line, typically sold at a discount and then further processed or ground for products like chicken sausage."

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Category: Food Safety