Why does my chicken smell like pizza?

In the past I talked about the dangers of eating conventionally raised chicken. Producers like Bell & Evans have a different approach that’s gaining momentum. They raise chickens ethically and humanely. As a result, the chickens they raise are safe to eat. One of the things they do to keep their chickens healthy might surprise you…

When you visit their farms in Fredricksburg, Pa., you might wonder whether they raise chickens or sell pizza. It smells like oregano everywhere you walk. In fact, you will find oregano lying loose in trays and tied into bunches on tabletops and counters. In a big, oil drum, you’ll find oregano oil.

No, Bell & Evans aren’t trying to branch out into the pizza business. They give the oregano to their chickens. In fact, over the last three years, their chickens have been eating a diet formulated with oregano oil and cinnamon.

Bell & Evans uses this concoction to prevent bacterial infections in their chickens, without resorting to antibiotics. And it’s working! In fact, a spokesman from Bell & Evans told the New York Times that nothing they have used as an antibiotic substitute in the past has worked as well as oregano oil.

Oregano oil has a long history of fighting infections. In fact, in the Department of Physiology at Georgetown University, where I teach as an Adjunct Professor, my colleague Harry G. Preuss, once studied the effectiveness of oregano oil on mice infected with fatal staphylococcus bacteria.

Of mice given oregano oil, half survived for the full 30 days of the study. Other mice received olive oil infused with a substance called carvacrol. Researchers consider carvacrol to be the single antibacterial “magic bullet” component in oregano. But none of the mice that received this magic bullet survived longer than 21 days. Other mice received only olive oil and they all died within three days. So as with herbal medicine in general, there appears to be more to the benefits of oregano oil than just the single “magic bullet” ingredient carvacrol.

Dr. Preuss presented his findings more than 10 years ago at a meeting of the American College of Nutrition. The study was then repeated and all the findings held up.

With good results in hand, Dr. Preuss applied to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for financing of a larger study. But the agency denied his petition. Once again, NIH ignored very promising findings with respect to an effective, natural alternative.

And once again, NIH couldn’t be more negligent. Particularly when considering the crisis in hospitals that has resulted from indiscriminate use of antibiotics in patients (and inappropriate use in animals) with increasing resistance to antibiotics.

In any case, I’m not surprised that Bell & Evans has had such good results feeding oregano oil to its chickens. If you can find Bell & Evans chickens in your market, try it out and let me know what you think!  And now you know the answer to that old joke about the chicken coop, “nobody here but us chickens.”

Georgetown University Medical Center (2001, October 11). Oregano Oil May Protect Against Drug-Resistant Bacteria, Georgetown