The Curse of Frankenchicken

Viral rumor that KFC does not serve real chicken is just a myth

KFC chicken

 Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A viral rumor has been circulating since 1999 warning readers to think twice before buying a meal at KFC restaurants lest they find themselves consuming a product shockingly different from what they've been led to expect. The food may look like fried chicken and taste like fried chicken — and it is fried — but it's not real chicken, asserts the rumor. Instead, the meals are made from "genetically manipulated organisms" so far removed from real animals that KFC is legally forbidden from calling it chicken. The rumor is patently false but read on to find out how it started, what folks are alleging, and the facts of the matter.

Example Email

The following email, which appeared in late 1999, is fairly representative of the viral rumor:

Subject: Boycott KFC
KFC has been a part of our American traditions for many years. Many people, day in and day out, eat at KFC religiously. Do they really know what they are eating?
First of all, has anybody questioned why the company originally changed its name? In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC. Does anybody know why? We thought the real reason was because of the "FRIED" food issue. It's not. The reason why they call it KFC is because they cannot use the word chicken anymore. Why? KFC does not use real chickens. They actually use genetically manipulated organisms.
These so called "chickens" are kept alive by tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients throughout their structure. They have no beaks, no feathers, and no feet. Their bone structure is dramatically shrunk to get more meat out of them. This is great for KFC because they do not have to pay so much for their production costs. There is no more plucking of the feathers or the removal of the beaks and feet.
Please forward this message to as many people as you can. Together we can make KFC start using real chicken again.

KFC Responds: Absurd

The restaurant has heard the rumors and responded in 2016 in a post on its website titled, "The Real History of the KFC Name Change":

Modern myths are weird. One of them says that we changed our name to KFC because we couldn’t use the word “chicken” anymore. Absurd. Chicken, chicken, chicken. See? We are still called Kentucky Fried Chicken; we started using KFC ’cause it was fewer syllables.
In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken decided on a name change to KFC. Why, after 39 successful years, would a world-famous restaurant chain change its name?
Maybe because KFC is just easier to say with your mouth full. Or maybe KFC fits better on signs. In reality, we wanted to let our customers know that we had more for them to enjoy than just fried chicken, and many were already calling us KFC, as it was much easier to say.
Truth is, we didn’t do a great job at explaining the KFC name change, which left the door open for folks to get creative with the reason. And boy did they! Shortly after the name change, an email chain letter—it was 1991, remember—began to spread the rumor that Kentucky Fried Chicken used genetically modified chickens and was forced to remove the word “chicken” from its name.

"Mutant Chicken" Myth Debunked

The blog Swallowing the Camel agrees wholeheartedly with KFC, and succinctly debunked the urban legend with a few cogent points:

  • KFC doesn’t even raise its own chickens; the chain buys from numerous suppliers that sell chicken to many other restaurants, supermarkets, and fast food chains.
  • No one forced Kentucky Fried Chicken to change its name. The common wisdom is that the name change was part of an early ’90s rebranding effort designed to downplay the word “fried” (and possibly the word “Kentucky”).
  • The word “chicken” still appears on the KFC menu, so obviously, the chain is still using chicken.
  • No one has yet figured out how to produce legless/beakless poultry.

Still, the rumors refuse to die, hence the 2016 KFC post on its website. Consumers just need to know the facts, say KFC officials. "After all, we buy our chickens from the very same sources that ordinary consumers do," company spokesman Michael Tierney noted when the rumors began circulating. "We just buy a lot more of them."