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Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changedthe Way the World Eats

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  503 ratings  ·  84 reviews
In this eye-opening exposé, acclaimed health journalist and National Geographic contributor Maryn McKenna documents how antibiotics transformed chicken from local delicacy to industrial commodity—and human health threat—uncovering the ways we can make America's favorite meat safer again.

What you eat matters—for your health, for the environment, and for future generations.
Kindle Edition, 400 pages
Published September 12th 2017 by National Geographic
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Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At this moment, most meat animals, across most of the planet, are raised with the assistance of doses of antibiotics on most days or their lives: 63,151 tons of antibiotics per year, about 126 million pounds. Farmers began using the drugs because antibiotics allowed animals to convert feed to tasty muscle more efficiently; when that result made it irresistible to pack more livestock into barns, antibiotics protected animals against the likelihood of disease.
-from BIG CHICKEN, Maryn McKenna

Who sh
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're curious about what goes into the food we eat, I would recommend you take a look at this book. In very understandable terms, the author describes antibiotic resistance and its harm to animals and humans.
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-reads
An important book that many people should read and despite the title it's about more than just industrially-raised chickens: it could almost stand as a companion to Miracle Cure, William Rosen's comprehensive recent history of the invention of antibiotics. McKenna's book is about the entire system of industrially-raised food and its effects on our health and environment, including and in particular, antibiotic resistance. I couldn't define a plasmid before I read this - (Wikipedia: a genetic str ...more
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
What a fascinating book. It starts with the history of chicken farming and moves on to how industrial farming of chicken (and other livestock also, but especially chicken) has been a much bigger contributor to antibiotic resistance than human medical use.

Quick takeaways:

1. I think this is best read in conjunction with Tim Harford's Adapt. One of the most important things I learnt from this book is how consolidated and vertically integrated poultry farming has become in the USA (but worldwide in
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, diving deep into the history of industrial chicken farming, and ranging widely over the state of the art and the cutting edge of antibiotic free intensive poultry raising. It was certainly scary and weird in places, but I was surprised at the hopeful note it ended on.
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very readable, well researched history of antibiotic use in chickens. Although 400 pages seems a bit much for the nonspecialist, every chapter is relevant. Beginning in the 1940s as a growth enhancer, antibiotic use became widespread and difficult to eliminate because it made possible industrialized, cheap meat. The final chapters and epilogue provide hope but also compare the problem of antibiotic resistance to climate change; both are multifaceted complex issues.
Jonathan Karmel
Bacteria are constantly evolving to develop resistance to antibiotics. Antimicrobial resistance is a huge public health problem, because a growing number of people are getting diseases that cannot be cured by standard antibiotics such as penicillin. Maryn McKenna is sounding the alarm that there may come a time when antibiotics don’t work anymore.

This book tells the story of “Big Chicken,” how chicken meat has become a factory farm product since World War II. One of the ways farmers have been ab
Trey Rice
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is an excellent discussion and expose on the story of how antibiotics and medicine in chickens have altered the effectiveness of antibiotics on humans. The material is well researched, and provides a critical look at the various aspects of growing, expanding the analysis outside of simply chickens, but to cows and pigs as well, which allows for the reader to truly see the impact.

Overall, the book leaves some things to be desired, because the cohesion and purpose of the message is lost
Alex Linschoten
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is all about how industrial farming's use of antibiotics is causing resistant strains to emerge for humans. McKenna has to cover a large swathe of material, and this book is engagingly written with a mix of personal stories and investigation. Two points of detraction: the unblinking focus on the USA (barring a couple of excursions to the UK and the Netherlands) gets a bit boring. Why do we have to always read about the practices of the American government & their industry? Secondly, tr ...more
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit that sometimes I get conscious consumer fatigue and just buy cheap food at the discount grocery. We're all going to die eventually (though it often seems more imminent these days) so what's the difference between a $1.69 chicken breast family pack and the air chilled locally raised butchered on site chicken at $5.99 from the butcher shop? But then I read books like this and have to remind myself, it's not just what I'm eating, it's supply and demand, supporting causes with my mon ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health, non-fiction
Phenomenal read. Discussed how large quantity of chicken meat became essential to American eating lifestyle, how the meat became dangerous due to the infiltration of antibiotics into our livestock, and how chicken overall has changed and the confinement is affecting our diets. Highly recommend
Jan 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this book is terrifying. It took me some time to get through it because of the nature of the subject matter. I highly suggest all people who consume a Western diet read this.
Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely terrifying. Humanity is in a race to end it all...will it be resistant bacteria? Nuclear war or climate change? 😖☠️ Like all other things, antibiotics and farming is all money and big corporations who don’t care about people, they only care about making money as cheaply as possible and their bottom lines. We’re all doomed.
Chickens + infectious disease = one of my favorite books this year. Definitely worth a read, even if neither of those topics are your thing. It's fascinating, informative, and frightening.
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I kind of wish I hadn't read this. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good. Though long, don't let that scare you off. Not dry or boring. It is info you will want to know for your own good.
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, tteams6
Well researched book on the origins of the poultry industry as we know it today and the impact of certain agricultural practices on human health. I look forward to reading anything this author puts out in the future. Journalism at its best.
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thorough read on how antibiotics use in chicken has lead to the surge in microbial resistance to drugs. This book is written in a way to put in complex medical terms into non-patronising lay-man terms. I hope it becomes such a hit that like "the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks". It is not complete doom as corporations as farmers and corporations are starting to phase out antibiotic practice and there is a list of course of actions consumers can take. All in all great informative read.
Beth Ann
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maryn McKenna has written an excellent book about the how the use of antibiotics in raising farm animals is directly assisting in the creation of drug resistance bacteria. She points out that new antibiotics are becoming too expensive to research and bring to market because bacteria become almost immediately resistant to the new drug before the company can recoup the cost of development. The CDC director is quoted that a post-antibiotic era is upon us and for some patients who have a drug resist ...more
Much of this book was interesting, but it didn't seem to all fit together very well.

I went in expecting a general exposé of industrial chicken farming, or, per the subtitle, something about how growth-enhancing antibiotics led to bigger broiler chickens. This was seemingly confirmed when the opening of the book is about how woooonderfully delicious chicken from French farmers' markets is; there is a rhapsody about the flavor and texture of French chicken is compared to the squishy, bland America
Feb 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m a vegetarian and a veterinary student. I also spent some time in Delmarva learning it’s poultry history and the nuances that go into poultry farming. I loved the book for its historical accuracy but the bias framing made it difficult for me to rate this better. Although accurate the omission of information from one side or the other prevents readers from critically analyzing the complexity of the issue.

One very clear example of this is on page 268.
The author argues “Vaccines are a more effic
Rachel Blakeman
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle should really be "We're F*cked." I have been interested in understanding antibiotic resistance for years but this was my first deep dive into agricultural antibiotic use. And this book fundamentally changed how I think about my chicken consumption habits. If you like books that look at our food supply, this should definitely be on your reading list.

This books reads quickly in a nice, narrative way. I saw other reviewers thought it was repetitive. I disagree. There were references to
Lauren Schumacher
I don't really know how to rate a book like this. The research seemed thorough and reliable, and the science was imparted clearly. But I didn't like...enjoy reading it...? It was research for me.

That said, highly interesting. The tl;dr version is: agricultural uses of antibiotics are completely unsustainable. They were a true miracle drug, and offered an incredible short-term boost to global meat availability. But we just can't make new ones as quickly as bacteria can adapt. Both human health an
Nazrul Buang
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Just finished reading 'Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats' (2017) by Maryn McKenna. I decided to borrow a copy to understand how the unscrupulous and excessive use of antibiotics in the poultry industry contribute to the epidemic rise in antibiotics resistance.

'Big Chicken' is a textbook example of riveting investigative journalism, where author McKenna tries to comprehensively identify the various factors and circum
Peggy Kahn
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a remarkable account, meticulously researched and well written, of the history of antibiotics in agriculture, using the industrially farmed chicken as the prism through which to focus the mainly U.S. story. The author explains the science of bacteria and antibiotics, farming and agricultural practices, corporate and regulatory institutions, individual actors, and outcomes over time. Chronologically it gets to the non-legally binding FDA guidance issued in 2012 and 2015 and contains some ...more
Chris Demer
This is a meticulously researched and highly readable book on the history of the chicken "industry" and the perils resulting from the factory farming of the animal that forms a large part of the American (and the world's) diet.

Chicken "farming" as it had become in the US particularly evolved in the 1920s when it changed from small farms which provided the eggs, chickens, feed and sometimes the slaughtering of many varieties of chicken. This poultry was tasty, although not homogeneous, and was t
Macayla Fryc
This well-researched documentation of the global discovery and introduction of antibiotics to our food and medical systems is fascinating. Goes way beyond the grasp of "big chicken."

1940s saw the launch of the antibiotic "rush" and the carelessness with which the FDA threw antibiotics into food production. This alone allowed farmers to crowd more animals into smaller spaces, feed them worse food, and care for them less. Chickens were fed antibiotics, were soaked in antibiotics, and final product
This is one of the best books I've read in some time. I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in where our food comes from, human health, animal welfare, antibiotic resistance, and history. The emergence of chicken as a dominant protein source in Western diets, and the related use of antibiotics in industrial livestock have had a number of economic, social, and infectious-disease related outcomes, and Maryn McKenna deftly intertwines history, scientific evidence, and glimpses into individua ...more
McKenna starts this real life horror story with the salmonella epidemic of 2013 in the US which originated with the most eaten, the most unnaturally produced, and as the story develops we can without a doubt state the most contentious food, humans ever produced: chicken.

At the same time Chinese microbiologists found a resistance gene in E. coli against colistin. The one antibiotic that was used very sparingly in human medicine because it had some nasty side effects and due to that fact the only
Katie Stark
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you eat meat, especially chicken, read this. We need to eliminate antibiotic use in chickens or we will have more epidemics multi drug resistant bacteria. Globalization and consolidation have guaranteed this. Chicken-caused MDR infections can spread to people that havent eaten contaminated chicken (or chicken at all!) and present traditionally as food borne illnesses but also MRSA that goes through hospitals, and even UTIs! Some key things to look for when looking for antibiotic free chicken: ...more
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Maryn McKenna is a journalist and author who specializes in public health, global health and food policy.

She has reported from epidemics and disasters, and farms and food production sites, on most of the continents, including a field hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, a Thai village erased by the Indian Ocean tsunami, a bird-testing unit on the front lines of West Nile virus, an Arc

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