I had settled down in a little Italian bistro to recover from some dental treatment and was dipping ciabatta bread into hot carrot and coriander soup, chewing slowly and observing feeling returning to the gums as the numbing effect of the ‘injection’ wore off. What a relief to experience pain-free eating! I opened The Independent newspaper lying on the table and read this article which ironically was very much about ‘pain-full’ eating: ‘Secretive Industry that Rules the Roost: Chicken Is Set to Become the Best–Selling Meat Globally.’
The article began with the question: “Who’s for chicken?” Followed by the answer that around the world from more of us, and more often, there is a resounding “ME”. To find out why and how chicken reached this position the reporter claimed to have discovered some extraordinary facts:
Article Fact. Using the latest poultry science and genetics, a broiler chicken’s life, from hatch to dispatch, reaches its target weight in 35 days.
An English Norfolk farmer, described as running one of the most efficient chicken farms in the world (just nine staff raise 6 million chickens a year) was quoted as being a firm believer that the best welfare standards and the best productivity are achieved by rearing chickens indoors in tightly controlled conditions. “I never cease to wonder at these birds’ abilities,” he said, ankle deep in some of the 54,000 broilers eating and growing in one of his many chicken sheds. “Given the right feed and care they’re so productive, it’s fantastic.”
The fact not revealed is that modern broiler chickens, slaughtered at only five weeks of age, are frequently diseased and crippled.
Hillside Animal Sanctuary boss Wendy Valentine says; “Broiler chickens lead a life of misery. Their excessive and unnatural growth has come about as a result of genetic engineering and makes them pile on weight three times as fast as they should. Their bones simply cannot handle this and as a result they suffer awful, painful leg deformities that leave many of them unable to walk at all.”
Technically, modern broiler chickens are clinically obese. Even when they’re just a few weeks old, all manner of diseases of obesity may have set in.
Article Fact. 95% of the 50 billion chickens eaten in the world every year are broilers. There are actually very few species of broilers. Whether in Sydney or Shanghai, Nairobi or Mumbai, the chicken served up is likely to be the exact same breed of broiler. No other farmed animal system relies on such a narrow genetic base. Moreover, there are only three dominant companies in broiler breeding.
Article Fact. More than half the chicken eaten globally is from an Aviagen bird. The poultry-breeding company Aviagen (it breeds turkeys and fish as well as chickens) is privately owned and notoriously secretive. It runs a highly technical business. The head of Global Genetics at Aviagen said, “Through multiplication centres throughout the globe we supply parent stock to more than a hundred countries.” A single elite Aviagen male bird will go on to be represented in 50 million chickens anywhere on the planet – bred to grow faster and more efficiently.
The fact not revealed is that in order to breed successfully, the parent birds, genetically identical to their offspring, must remain underweight. So they are kept hungry. Sometimes very hungry, eating their meagre rations, finely tuned by the breeding companies, in a matter of minutes, their suffering compounded by the fact that they, like their offspring, have been genetically selected for big appetites.
Article Fact. Concerns about the chicken’s welfare and health hardly make a dent in this meat’s popularity. Without the highest standards of husbandry the crowded, warm and humid conditions in which chickens are raised are perfect for bacterial diseases (salmonella, E coli and campylobacter), which may cause serious diseases in humans eating contaminated chicken if not properly cooked. Defence that builds up slowly would be useless for an animal that will be dead in five weeks. So vaccines to prime chicken immunity to resist attack are injected into each embryo in the egg three days before they hatch.
Article Fact. A chicken financier from Rabobank International was asked what global chicken is worth and the answer is about $450bn and rising.
Article Fact. The intensive broiler chicken industry is transforming the face of global eating. Now, hundreds of millions of chickens live and die in factory farms.
The fact not revealed is that in addition to health problems arising from their genetic make-up, the birds’ living conditions are unacceptable, being unsuited to the birds’ needs and insanitary. Broilers are not caged; they suffer from a completely different range of serious welfare problems to those encountered by battery hens. Diseases and injuries caused or exacerbated by living conditions in the windowless controlled environment sheds include hock burns, ulcerated feet, poor feathering, heat stress, and injuries caused by birds becoming trapped in automatic feed devices. Conditions in broiler sheds which may cause distress or actual pain include dim lighting, inadequate ventilation, filthy ‘capped’ litter, overcrowding and the impossibility of properly inspecting the stock.
A surviving rescued broiler chicken
The slaughter of broiler chickens is often, from the welfare point of view, unsatisfactory, (from a moral point of view, always unsatisfactory). Clare Druce, a Life Campaigner for Animals, describes the process, “First comes the terrifying catching process, then a gruelling journey, crammed together in drawer-like modules or crates, often suffering from injured or trapped limbs, and from heat, stress or cold. And the suffering is not over yet. At high speed, they must be grabbed from the crates and hung in shackles, a process known to cause great pain. Death is generally by electric shock, intended to render the bird unconscious before necks are cut and bleeding-out takes place.”
“Procedures in far too many poultry slaughterhouses do not ensure that the birds are adequately stunned, leaving an unknown number alive, and some still conscious, when they enter the scalding tank.” – Dr Henry Carter, past President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
The newspaper article rounded off with the glib statement that no longer is there any doubt that broiler chickens will become the most popular meat in the world and (astonishingly) compounded this glibness with a list of the best selling chicken dishes available in various well known outlets.
By not revealing the truth of suffering as the extraordinary fact in a broiler chicken’s life and death, the insight that “What we do to another we do to ourselves” could not be illuminated.
We need to ask critical questions like “Might the increase of obesity, heart disease, cancer and depression in humans be a causal outcome of man’s ruthless and cruel infliction of obesity, heart disease, cancer and misery on the ‘globally popular’ broiler chicken (and other factory farmed and laboratory animals) ?”
Humans urgently need to awaken to our inter-connectedness and oneness with all life. We need to stop buying ‘genetic freak’ dead animals from factory farms. Stop turning a blind eye to the insane mass killing of billions of bird beings. Stop eating corpses. We need to have moral respect for animals of all species and not use them as resources. Buying ‘organic’ or ‘free-range’ chickens is still not the answer – it needs a change of lifestyle. Become vegan. It is not difficult and you will not be part of the suffering cycle of the broiler chicken (and of any animal). It is morally the right thing to do.
Who’s for Chicken Lib? “Me!”
Note: This article was written three years ago but is as relevant now as then. It is being published again prompted by an astonishing guide recently published by a leading UK newspaper (Daily Mail) to encourage the nation to change to a Vegan (wholefood, plant based diet) diet: Daily Mail guide on how to live longer
Linden Brough March 2016
‘Secretive Industry that Rules the Roost: Chicken Is Set to Be come the Best–Selling Meat Globally.’ By Susie Emmett, The Independent, Thursday, 7th February 2013
‘Chicken Today…’ by Clare Druce, Hillside Animal Sanctuary Newsletter, Winter 2012