Animal welfare is a cause very near and dear to my heart. That being so, I really don’t know where to begin. So I’ll begin with animals, who they are, what they’re like, and the terrible things that happen to them before they come to your plate. Being that there is a well of information available on these topics, I have chosen one main source to derive most of my evidence. I will reference Peter Singer’s book, The Ethics of What We Eat as my main source of information, as he has done quite a thorough investigation himself. So this can also serve as a sort of summary of outstanding bits, since I know it’s so hard for people to actually read a book…
So often when I talk about these things, people respond in the typical way, “it’s just a pig.” Or, “humans are an intelligent species, pigs/chickens/cows are not.” Animal consumption and poor treatment is all based on one of the most hurtful assumptions thrown around in our society, that intelligence equals worth. This assumption is inherently flawed. Even if it were true, who are we to say that intelligence does not exist in the animal world? What does “intelligence” really mean?
In this guilt trip series, I’ve decided to begin with chickens. Slaughter of chickens and turkeys constitute a large majority of slaughtered animals in the U.S. Chicken is the ultimate staple food today, but was once considered a luxury to eat. That is absolutely laughable to most people considering how often chicken is eaten today. This is a direct result of humanity being sacrificed for productivity, a concept we should all be familiar within this economic system.
According to Peter Singer, “Chickens can recognize up to 90 other individual chickens and know whether each one is higher or lower in the pecking order than they are themselves. Researchers have shown that if chickens get a small amount of food when they immediately peck at a colored button, but a larger amount if they wait 22 seconds, they can learn to wait before pecking… chickens still retain the ability to give and to understand distinct alarm calls depending on whether there is a threat from above, like a hawk, or from the ground, like a raccoon. When scientists play back a recording of an ‘aerial’ alarm call, chickens respond differently than when they hear a recording of a ‘ground’ alarm call.”
“Chickens exist in stable social groups. They can recognize each other by their facial features. They have 24 distinct cries that communicate a wealth of information to one other, including separate alarm calls depending on whether a predator is traveling by land or sea. They are good at solving problems. ‘As a trick at conferences I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I’m talking about monkeys.” -Dr. Chris Evans, Professor of Psychology at Macquarie University, Australia
That is intelligence. But is that really what matters? The question we should really be asking ourselves when we take a bite is not whether this animal is intelligent, but whether they can feel pain. They most certainly can.
“One study found that 90 percent of broilers had detectable leg problems, while 26 percent suffered chronic pain as a result of bone disease… Sometimes vertebrae snap, causing paralysis. Paralyzed birds or birds whose legs have collapsed cannot get to food or water, and–because the growers don’t bother to, or don’t have time to, check on individual birds–die of thirst or starvation.” (Singer).
“Broilers are the only livestock that are in chronic pain for the last 20% of their lives. They don’t move around, not because they are overstocked, but because it hurts their joints so much… in both magnitude and severity, [industrial chicken production is] the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.” – Prof. John Webster, University of Bristol’s School of Vertinary Science.
This quote states that a chicken spends 20% of their lives in chronic pain. Let’s say the average life span of a human is 80 years. That’s 16 years of chronic pain. Unbelievable. Do you really want to participate in this system?
In conditions like those pictured above, you can imagine the smell. But can you imagine living in it? Or laying in it?
“High ammonia levels give the birds chronic respiratory disease, sores on their feet and hocks, and breast blisters. It makes their eyes water, and when it is really bad, many birds go blind. As the birds, bred for extremely rapid growth, get heavier, it hurts them to keep standing up, so they spend much of their time sitting on the excrement-filled litter–hence the breast blisters.” (Singer).
And this is just how they live (not mentioning their constant state of starvation, see paragraph 3 of this link). What about the slaughter house? How do they get there?
Yep. Pretty gruesome, huh? I myself had had the unfortunate experience of seeing many of these trucks filled with turkeys awaiting death outside of a slaughter house. Six of seven truckloads sitting in the 110 degree heat, being beaten with hot air by one large industrial fan each, for hours, until they were moved in to slaughter (I’d like to thank the Longmont turkey slaughter house for this unsavory, bi-weekly experience).
And their death?
“Today, a killing line typically moves at 90 birds a minute… can go as high as 120 birds a minute, or 7,200 an hour… As birds move down the killing line, still upside down, their heads are dipped into an electrified water bath… “the stunner.” But this is a misnomer… the type of electrical current used in the stunning procedure was not adequate to make the birds immediately unconscious. Using a current that would produce immediate loss of consciousness, however, would risk damage to the quality of the meat… From the point of view of the slaughterhouse operator, inducing paralysis is as good as inducing unconsciousness, for it stops the birds from thrashing about and makes it easier to cut their throats. Because of the fast line speed, even the throat-cutting that follows the electrified water bath misses some birds, and they then go alive and conscious into the next stage of the process, a tank of scalding water.” (Singer).
“An undercover videotape made at a Tyson slaughterhouse at Heflin, Alabama, shows dozens of birds who have been mutilated by throat-cutting machines that were not working properly. Workers rip the heads off live chickens that have been missed by the cutting blade.” (Singer).
These activities are not exceptions, they are THE NORM. And if all this isn’t bad enough, consider a human working at the slaughter house, and how they become desensitized to the suffering of animals. “In January 2003, Butler made a public statement describing workers pulling chickens apart, stomping on them, beating them, running over them on purpose with a fork-lift truck, and even blowing them up with dry ice ‘bombs… Workers had ripped off a bird’s head to write graffiti in blood, plucked feathers off live chickens to ‘make it snow,’ suffocated a chicken by tying a latex glove over its head, and squeezed birds like water balloons to psray feces over other birds.” Don’t believe it? This undercover video was taken at a KFC slaughter house. Check it out, it’s your responsibility.
“Unable to dismiss the evidence of cruelty [shown in the video], Pilgrim’s Pride said it was ‘appalled.’ But neither Pilgrim’s Pride nor Tyson Foods, the two largest suppliers of chicken in America, have done anything to address the root cause of the problem: unskilled, low-paid workers doing dirty, blood work, often in stifling heat, under constant pressure to keep the killing lines moving no matter what so that they can slaughter up to 90,000 animals every shift.”
This post has been for the most part, about chickens. But it is important to note that everything said of chickens and their slaughter also applies to turkey production. Here’s undercover video of a turkey slaughter house, this video was taken at House of Raeford Farms, the 7th largest supplier of turkey in America. Think about this on Thanksgiving. Are you thankful for this?
Feel guilty yet?