Note: The following characters are fictional. Any likeness to real individuals, organizations or agencies is purely coincidental.  

Suggested Roles for Characters:  

  • Fred Pucker: Pucker’s purpose is to give students a good sense of industrial farming in the United States. He also wants to protect his reputation and his interests! As the newspaper article says, PuckerUp Poultry is the world’s largest producer of beef, pork and poultry with over $24 billion in sales in 2003. (These are the actual numbers for Tyson Foods.) Fred Pucker should explain that he contracts out growers (i.e., the people who feed the chickens are not PuckerUp employees). Pucker is responsible for providing growers with livestock (chicks), feed, veterinary services and medicine. Since the feed was bought from Feed the World, Inc. you could say honestly say you have no idea how the feed was contaminated with dioxin. Responsibility lies in the hands of the government testing agencies, not you. If you are at a loss of what to say, you can always fall back on, “We’re a family business, we have the highest quality chicken…”.

For more about industrial chicken farming, see:

  • Alabama DPH: Alabama DPH is concerned about the economy. With respect to health concerns regarding dioxin, they have very few. The general stance of (fictional) Alabama DPH is that there is no expert consensus on the health effects of dioxin exposure. Just because some chickens got sick doesn’t mean that any people will, in fact, they probably will not. Evidence about dioxin comes primarily from animal tests, so we don’t really know what it does to people. All these tests on the chickens are taking up money and time, and causing an unnecessary scare. We don’t want to hurt the economy, put people out of work by closing the chicken industry down, or erode consumer confidence by causing alarm. However, the DPH is heading up chicken testing, whereby the fat from chicks will be tested for dioxin concentration. We will look at toxicology studies to determine IF there is dioxin contamination, how much might pose a risk.
  • Public Health Scientist w/expertise on Dioxin: This role involves less imagination than some of the others. The idea is to give students a good sense of scientific uncertainty, as well as of what is known about dioxin and dioxin-like compounds (i.e., carcinogenic, reproductive and developmental health affects associated with dioxin.) Explain that the dose is important in determining damage. Remember, the students do not know exactly where it came from or for how long the chickens were exposed. They also do not know if humans who ate the chickens could have been exposed to enough to cause health effects. Mention the ongoing EPA reassessment of Dioxin and background levels of dioxin/WHO Tolerable Daily Intake. Also, in playing this role, take advantage of the fact that you are not representing a DPH. You don’t have to worry about your constituents, politics, etc.
  • Concerned resident in Massachusetts: This person has one major role: introduce questions the students may not think of on their own, and make them concerned. The students have not been given questions to ask you. So you can invent your own and ask them questions. “I’ve been eating chicken all summer and now I don’t know what I’ll do. I am concerned about how this will affect me and my family. I have young children and am expecting another in a few months. We eat chicken 5 days a week, it is the cheapest source of protein we can afford. If this stuff killed the chickens, what will it do to us??” And, “I don’t trust the food system in this country! How did dioxin get in my chicken? Is this a terrorist attack? Who is protecting me?” You might take a “back-to-the-land” approach… “I am going to buy all organic and locally raised chicken from now own. I’ll buy the most expensive chicken if I have to, because I can’t count on any government to protect me.” Be the dramatic extreme. Express your fear and mistrust of government agenies and corporations. Have fun, and ham it up (no pun intended).
  • FDA Representative: The key purpose of this character is to give students a sense of the various agencies that regulate different aspects of the food system. Explain that scientific data for dioxin isn’t certain (point out that most of what we know about dioxin comes from tests on animals, so it’s not certain whether it has the same effects on humans), and that there are no tolerances or other administrative levels for dioxins in food or feed. Consequently, the appearance of dioxin compounds in a food or feed supply is a grave concern. FDA, in conjunction with the European Union and the USDA, is addressing both international and domestic dioxin and PCB concerns. FDA is also working cooperatively with state feed regulators and other relevant federal agencies to trace the distribution of dioxin contaminated feed products. However, at this point in the investigation, FDA does not believe this poses a human health risk.

For more information on FDA and dioxin, see:



Boston University Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Environmental Exposures and Health