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Nearly all store-brand chicken in U.S. has fatty "white striping" issue, group says

Modern farming methods means more and more supermarket chicken meat has white stripes — actually, pockets of fat — running through it. In fact, the vast majority, or 99%, of all store-brand chicken sold in major U.S. supermarkets is impacted by muscle fatty deposits called "white striping," according to findings released on Monday by the Humane League.

The report analyzed meat cases at major supermarkets across 29 U.S. states, with white striping disease found in all but 1% of the chicken inventory, the animal welfare group said. Moderate-to-severe white striping was found in 70% of chicken packages that researchers analyzed, and all 16 major grocery chains surveyed had white striping disease present in their store-brand chicken breast packages. 

Although the nonprofit group views its findings as an illustration of chickens being raised with little concern for their welfare, the affliction also can curtail the nutritional value of poultry when consumed by humans. The findings "should raise alarm bells for consumers everywhere," David Coman-Hidy, president of the Humane League, stated in a news release

A visible result of chickens being bred for rapid growth, white striping causes the meat to have a far higher fat content — up to 224% more — and lower protein levels, the Humane League said. White striping was nearly nonexistent less than 10 years ago, showing up in just 5% of chickens, but five years later stood at 96%, the group noted.

Chickens and other animals are commonly factory farmed in the U.S., meaning large numbers are confined in small spaces to maximize production and minimize costs. 

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Broiler chickens raised for meat are bred to gain weight rapidly, reducing the amount of food and water needed before slaughter. Still, factory-farmed chickens grow so quickly that the birds frequently can't hold up their own body weight, with muscle replaced with fibrous tissue and fat.

The Humane League report was dismissed as unscientific by the National Chicken Council, which likened white striping as similar to marbling in red meat. "White striping is not a disease. It is a quality factor in chicken breast meat caused by deposits of fat in the muscle during the bird's growth and development," a spokesperson for the trade group said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch.

Only 3% to 6% of birds in commercial flocks have severe cases of white striping, and most of the time severely white-striped chicken meat is used in further processed products and not sold in retail as boneless, skinless breast, the council spokesperson said. "So, when consumers purchase meat at the store, the meat does not have white striping," he said. 

Americans eat more chicken than anyone else in the world does, with poultry the No. 1 protein consumed in the U.S., according to the chicken council. 

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