A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization is sponsoring a billboard – not far from Ralph Wilson Stadium – about what’s found in chicken products, and it’ll probably ruffle some feathers in the birthplace of the chicken wing.
The billboard carries a provocative message: “It’s a Crapshoot: Feces Taints 50% of Buffalo Chicken.” It depicts a man wearing blue and red face paint, looking skeptically at a chicken wing.
The billboard went up Monday at McKinley Parkway and Southwestern Boulevard in Hamburg, in time for Sunday’s football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars in Orchard Park, and will remain up through Dec. 23. The sponsor, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, or PCRM, chose to put up the message here because of the chicken wing’s hometown heritage, said Jessica Frost, a PCRM spokeswoman.
The organization promotes vegan and vegetarian diets, ending “cruelty to animals in labs and research,” and is an “advocate for ethical research.” Critics of the PCRM contend that the group is a front for the animal rights movement and challenge the medical credentials implied by its name.
The group has drawn attention for billboards near sports venues in other cities. Last year, it put up a billboard near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway featuring hot dogs sticking out of what resembled a cigarette pack. And the PCRM sponsored a billboard in Wisconsin near the Green Bay Packers’ stadium, with a warning about cheese and an image of the Grim Reaper wearing a foam “cheesehead.” (The signature Packer fan headgear was removed after legal action was threatened, according to news reports.)
The Hamburg billboard cost the PCRM $7,000, including the ad’s production costs, Frost said. Susan Levin, a registered dietitian with the PCRM, said the billboard is an attempt to “raise awareness” about fecal matter in chicken products that people buy and eat. And as a dietitian, she said, “I’m hoping people will choose to consume less chicken.”
The PCRM says the claim about chicken products in its Buffalo billboard was based on research conducted in September. The group said that it bought a variety of different brands of chicken products – wings, breasts, thighs and legs – from 10 retail stores in the Buffalo area and sent them to an independent lab in Chicago.
The group says that it had them tested for the presence of generic E. coli “as evidence of fecal contamination” and that 63 out of the 100 packages tested positive. “Although variability was evident from store to store, it appears that consumers bring feces into their kitchens on more than half of the retail chicken products purchased, regardless of the brand,” the group said.
The report says the products were bought at two local stores of each of five chains: Dash’s, PriceRite, Save-A-Lot, Target and Tops Markets. “We just selected five [chains] – that seemed popular and central to Buffalo residents – at random to survey,” Frost said.
Store chains named in the report said they adhere to strict guidelines for the quality of meat they sell. “At Tops, we have the highest food safety standards possible in place, and we would never knowingly sell unsafe products to our customers,” said James J. DiMartino, Tops’ senior manager of regulatory, environmental services and food safety.
DiMartino said that those standards involve “partnering with reputable suppliers”; ensuring the products are inspected when received and kept at a safe temperature in the warehouse; and promoting safe handling, storing and cooking practices by consumers.
The PCRM’s report also takes aim at chicken industry practices that the group contends put chicken products at high risk for fecal contamination.
The National Chicken Council criticized the PCRM report. Ashley Peterson, the trade group’s vice president of science and technology, referred to the findings in a statement as “another misleading attempt by a pseudo-medical, vegan advocacy group to scare consumers in hopes of advancing their goal of a meat-free society.”
Peterson said the presence of generic E. coli “is not a guaranteed indicator for fecal contamination, as suggested.” She said that most E. coli strains are “completely harmless” and that the PCRM’s findings did not differentiate among them.
“I hope that Buffalonians and Bills fans take this billboard with a grain of salt … and a side of hot sauce, bleu cheese and celery,” Peterson said.
Levin said the PCRM’s reports have focused on the “disgust factor” of what was found in chicken products, rather than exploring potential health risks.