NCC Protests Wildly Inaccurate Story on Chicken Nuggets

NCC Communications Director Richard L. Lobb sent this letter to the news director of KSDK-TV in St. Louis to protect a wildly inaccurate story on chicken nuggets. The reporter on the story, Jamie Allman, simply repeated assertions on the Internet that have been debunked.

5 May 2011

Mr. Mike Shipley
News Director
1000 Market Street
St. Louis, Mo. 63101

Dear Mr. Shipley:

I am writing to protest the outrageously untrue report by Jamie Allman on your air concerning chicken nuggets. I know where Mr. Allman got his “facts,” and they are wrong, wrong, wrong.

He said on your air:

“But have you ever thought about what really goes into a chicken nugget? It all starts on a chicken farm. (VIDEO OF CAGED LAYERS). Usually, only retired egg layers are destined for nugget fame, since their meat is dirt cheap.”

Absolutely untrue. “Retired egg layers” are NOT used for chicken nuggets, at least not for any brand I’m aware of. There is so little meat on the caged layers depicted in the story that many of them are not processed for meat at all. The birds that produce the eggs that become broilers (which are not kept in cages and do not produce eggs for the table) usually become “stewing hens” or go into soup or other products that involve long cooking.

Chicken nuggets are in fact usually made of the same meat that you see in the supermarket, that is, broiler meat.

“Tendons, tissue, cartilage, organs, and other chicken extras are ground up into a fine poultry paste.”

Again untrue. Mr. Allman is referring to what is known as “mechanically separated poultry” (MSP) or “mechanically separated chicken” (MSC) if only chicken is used. MSP is the pink paste that is depicted in the video you got off the Internet. (I’ve seen it a dozen times already.) It is more often made from turkey meat than chickens. Frames (the skeletons after the meat has been removed) and sometimes larger parts such as turkey thighs, are put through a high-pressure sieve that gets the edible meat off the bones. The “organs” have long since been removed, and screens are used to keep out other parts. The resulting product is then used in products such as turkey franks, bologna, and other “pegboard” products.

If MSP is used is used in a food product, it has to be stated as such on the label. MSP is simply not used in the major brands of chicken nuggets as far as I know. I can’t say it is never used in nuggets because there are many formulations of nuggets, but to suggest that nuggets are usually made from MSP is simply untrue. It is also untrue to suggest, as Mr. Allman did, that all nuggets are the same. There are in fact hundreds of variations.

“Because that paste is typically crawling with bacteria, it’s washed with ammonia, and treated with an artificial flavoring.”

I understand there is some sort of ammonia treatment that can be used in red meat. We do not have it in chicken.

Raw chicken can always have bacteria on it. However, products containing MSP are fully cooked, which destroys the bacteria. Chicken nuggets sold at retail (which, again, usually do not contain MSP) are also cooked and all the consumer has to do is heat them up. There is no need for this ammonia treatment, whatever it is, which isn’t used in chicken processing anyway.

“To get rid of that pink color, the paste is dyed.”

The pink color is there because of the dark meat that is used in MSP. Nuggets are not pink because they are typically made from white meat, and there is no MSP in them, anyway.

You might wonder, how could anyone get things so wrong? The answer is simple: Mr. Allman ripped it off a web site. Here is a blog posting of September 28, 2010:

“Say hello to mechanically separated chicken. It’s what all fast-food chicken is made from—things like chicken nuggets and patties. Also, the processed frozen chicken in the stores is made from it.

“Basically, the entire chicken is smashed and pressed through a sieve—bones, eyes, guts, and all. It comes out looking like this.

“There’s more: because it’s crawling with bacteria, it will be washed with ammonia, soaked in it, actually. Then, because it tastes gross, it will be reflavored artificially. Then, because it is weirdly pink, it will be dyed with artificial color.

“But, hey, at least it tastes good, right?”

“High five, America!”

Google it and you’ll find that this yarn has been all over the Internet and has been corrected on among other sites. I have no doubt that the blogger cited above ripped it off from somebody else.

I understand that bloggers tend to have very low standards of accuracy, but I am surprised to find that a journalist for a major TV station would stoop to simply ripping off a blogger. What kind of reporting is that?

As for your nutritional analysis, the percentage of meat in a nugget simply depends on the requirements of the customer for which the nuggets are being made. You can tell by looking at a nugget that it is not pure meat. Nuggets sold at retail have both an ingredients panel and a Nutrition Facts panels, and we encourage customers to read them so they can get what they want.

But a story about now much meat is in a nugget would not be very interesting. It was Mr. Allman’s recycled falsehoods that gave the story its punch. On behalf of our industry (and we represent nearly all chicken producer-processors), I demand a correction with at least as much length and prominence as the original falsehoods.

Also, Mr. Allman’s story is being printed in newspapers, and I want to know what service is used to syndicate his story so that corrections can be requested there as well.


Richard L. Lobb
Director of Communications

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