Vol. 2, Issue 13, March 30, 2004
Poultry Industry Seeks Chicken that Doesn't Taste Like Chicken
American poultry producers are a multi-billion dollar part of the economy. Chicken products are everywhere, available in a dizzying array of forms at restaurants and fast-food outlets around the country. The average American consumes over 50 pounds of chicken per year - nearly double the amount consumed just 20 years ago. Except for trade restrictions brought about by the recent bird flu epidemics abroad, the industry seems to be doing extremely well.
So it was a bit of a mystery when the American Poultry Society (APS) decided to fund a massive research effort to genetically engineer chickens that don't taste like chicken.
"Chicken is widely used, that's true," said APS grand vizier Ronald Luscher. "But it gets no respect. People are always looking to make it taste like something else. Why on earth does KFC need to use eleven herbs and spices to make its product palatable? We think there's a market for chicken that tastes good all by itself."
In particular, the APS is seeking to escape from comparisons with other, less appealing meats not usually consumed in America.
"We are sick and tired of people eating rattlesnake, or Peruvian tree frogs, or lemurs or whatever, and saying it tastes like chicken," said Luscher angrily. "Basically, that's the same as saying we might as well be shipping millions of pounds of rattlesnake fillets to Boston Market or KFC. If you doused them with teriyaki sauce people couldn't tell the difference. Well, let me tell you: we can do better than that."
The $2 billion research program has been secretly developing genetically modified variants of chicken since 1998. Several different flavors are being attempted, but progress has been slow.
"We haven't really found the flavor gene," admitted Luscher, "and so our experiments have produced very mixed results to date." These apparently include fluorescent chickens, chickens with extra wings and legs, and at least one chicken that can play chess.
"We find these experiments unconscionable," said someone whose name we didn't catch from some animal rights group or other. "Are you listening to me?"
The most promising effort to date seems to be a chicken/japaleno hybrid, which has tested well with focus groups and appears essentially normal apart from its spicy flavor.
"Our main difficulty here has been housing the birds," admitted Luscher. "You can't keep fire-breathing chickens in a standard coop without unacceptable collateral damage. But we're working on it."