Editor's Blog: Offbeat news keeps it interesting

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – One thing is for certain, there is never a shortage of offbeat news in the US meat and poultry industry. Sure, some days or weeks are slower news-wise than others, but there are always at least several stories per month that raise my eyebrows. Here are just a few from this year that caught my attention.

Early in 2013, the top-10 food trends for the year were trumpeted by The Food Channel, an online resource for culinary expertise. Among the top trends it predicted were smoked foods and beverages, which were reportedly gaining in popularity. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t visit one foodservice establishment or home this year where I was offered a smoked beverage. Food Channel execs said to look for smoked cocktails, smoked olive oil — and even smoked water. Maybe I eat at the wrong places — but I’m still looking.

Eater reported in February that a 16-year-old British vegetarian boy was punched in the head and "rugby tackled to the ground" during an animal-rights protest he was participating in. According to the Daily Mail, Olly Tyler claimed he was just standing outside a KFC in Wiltshire in the UK wearing a 7-foot chicken costume when people began throwing chicken wings, chicken nuggets and sauces at him — and then he was sucker punched and tackled.

This PETA-award-winning lad, who was protesting the unacceptable conditions in which KFC hens allegedly are kept, used money his relatives gave him for excelling on exams to buy a $963 chicken suit. Tyler was okay after the ordeal. The Telegraph relayed he "did not suffer any injuries,” thanks in large part to his 7 foot- tall chicken suit. But Tyler could only handle one day of this two-day protest. "When you are in a chicken costume, you can't do anything to defend yourself," the battered boy squawked.

And who can forget that in February a major scandal broke overseas after horse meat was discovered being sold as beef and the global press flooded their papers and the wires with daily updates. Eaten only in a few countries, notably Europe, South America and Asia, horse meat is considered taboo in many cultures, including the US. Nevertheless, horse meat tastes a little sweet, tender and is low in fat, and is enjoyed by many. How big is this niche market? The top eight horse-meat consuming countries eat approximately 4.7 million horses per year. The horse meat story stayed alive for the entire year thanks to reports of horse meat surfacing here and there being wrongly labeled as beef or other proteins.

British researchers said in April they had successfully made a duck inside a chicken, according to a Time magazine article. As the story goes, Roslin Institute at Edinburgh Univ. researchers injected a duck’s germ cells – carrying DNA to produce eggs and sperm – into the reproductive organs of a chicken embryo. Once the chicken matured, it began to produce the duck’s sperm. These scientists initially wanted to genetically modify chicken to produce more fertile hens. They are now planning to use this technique to allow hens to lay eggs of other birds, including ducks, songbirds, hawks or eagles.

The goal is to use this system to propagate endangered species or potentially bring back an extinct one, according to Mike McGrew, project coordinator. Roslin Institute researchers have also created genetically modified chickens that prevent the spread of bird flu and the world’s first cloned mammal – Dolly the sheep.

Here’s a story for ancient history buffs. Nile Delta residents who helped build Pharaoh Menkaure's pyramid in Egypt consumed a diet heavy in red meat, reported LiveScience mid-year. Researchers estimated approximately 4,000 lbs. of meat from cattle, sheep and goats were harvested daily to feed the pyramid builders. What’s more, the researchers estimated a grazing area the size of Los Angeles would have been necessary to maintain such a large herd.

I’ve known folks who craved meat, but this next story is extreme. For the past five years, Kentuckian Derek Nance has reportedly eaten nothing but raw meat, reported MSN. Nance’s carnivorous diet began after he battled a chronic digestive issue that made him lose weight –unfortunately due to being constantly ill.
Nance, who prefers lamb, sources and kills his own meals and he consumes every edible part of the animal including connective tissues, organs and brains. Word has it he planned to stick with his raw-meat diet.

Looking for a special Christmas present for the meat-lover in your family? Maybe he or she would like the Hana Yakiniku, which means "nose-grilled meat." It's a small 17-gram peripheral one plugs into an iPhone's headphone jack that sprays out one of three scents: Short Ribs, Beef Tongue and Buttered Potato, according to Kotaku.

Inventors of this product claim Hana Yakiniku is perfect for those short on cash, on a diet or dating. Interested consumers can spend 3,480 yen (US$35) for Hana Yakiniku, download the free iPhone app, and use it over and over while eating white rice (or lettuce) to trick your body into thinking you just devoured delicious meat, the report states. Cartridge refills cost 1,000 yen ($10), and Hana Yakiniku was to have launched on Nov. 15 in Japan.

Well, there you have some of the wacky industry-related stories from this year. Stories like this you can’t make up. Rest assured that more news weirdness can be expected in 2014.

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