Karen Davis: Stop cruel chicken breeding practices
Regarding “‘Hit him on the head, then kill him,’” by Carol Vaughn of the Eastern Shore News Dec. 9: I wish to address a specific cruelty noted in the article: the breeding of chickens for forced rapid growth – a practice dating to the 1940s and earlier in the 20th century.
Though poultry researchers have studied growth-induced diseases in chickens for decades, the National Chicken Council, which represents the U.S. industry, says the industry will continue raising chickens to heavier weights and larger sizes. Average bird weights are “just over six pounds,” an industry spokesman told a seminar in 2016, “but the big-bird segment is seeing average weights of nine to 10 pounds.”
On the one hand, the Department of Agriculture bragged in 1982 that if humans grew at the same rate as chickens raised for meat, “an 8-week-old baby would weigh 349 pounds.”
On the other hand, these chickens grow so large and fast that their hearts and lungs cannot support their body weight, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death rates.
Also studied for decades are the painful skeletal deformities caused by the forced rapid growth of chickens.
Explains animal scientist John Webster, “Genetic selection of broiler chickens for rapid growth and gross hypertrophy of the breast muscle has created serious problems of ‘leg weakness’ in the heavy, fastest-growing strains. ‘Leg weakness’ is a euphemism,” he says, “used to describe but not diagnose a long and depressing list of pathological conditions” of bones, tendons, and skin in birds bred for meat.
And there’s more.
“Trends in developmental anomalies in contemporary broiler chickens,” published in International Hatchery Practice in 2013, observes that chickens with extra legs and wings, missing eyes and beak deformities “can be found in practically every broiler flock.”
On almost every chicken farm, the article states, “a variety of health problems involving muscular, digestive, cardiovascular, integumentary, skeletal, and immune systems” form a constellation of manmade diseases.
Author Andrew A. Olkowski, DVM, presents “solid evidence that anatomical anomalies have become deep-rooted in the phenotype of contemporary broiler chickens.”
I’ve witnessed these anomalies firsthand since the 1980s when I started rescuing and caring for chickens previously owned by Tyson and other companies on the Eastern Shore.
When you pick up a chicken who fell off a truck on the way to the slaughter plant, the huge white bird with the little peeping voice and baby blue eyes feels like liquid cement.
The industry talks about “humane treatment” and “animal welfare” to silence opposition. The National Chicken Council brandishes “science and data” versus “activists’ emotional rhetoric.” Yet the very science it cites supports and motivates our emotional rhetoric.
Consider that a normal chicken weighs barely a pound at six weeks old – not 6 pounds at that age. The drive to produce ever larger, heavier birds has produced a bird caged in a body that poultry researchers describe as unfit and unhealthy.
Back in 2003, a Tyson employee in Arkansas, named Virgil Butler, described the cruelty and animal suffering he witnessed and took part in for years before leaving the business, unable to stomach it any more. He became a vegetarian and a compassionate spokesperson for the chickens. Before dying in December 2006 of complications resulting from the work he had done that wrecked him both physically and emotionally, he wrote:
“I could no longer look at a piece of meat anymore without seeing the sad face of the suffering animal who had lived in it when the animal was still alive.” He told how, at the slaughter plant where he worked, “The chickens hang there and look at you while they are bleeding. They try to hide their head from you by sticking it under the wing of the chicken next to them on the slaughter line. You can tell by them looking at you, they’re scared to death.”
I am grateful to the Eastern Shore News for putting the sad but illuminating story of the chickens on the front page. I hope it will encourage readers to stop eating chickens in favor of compassionate animal-free foods.
Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. Karen Davis is the author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry.
“‘Hit him on the head, then kill him,’” by Carol Vaughn of the Eastern Shore News Dec. 9.