Spring-Summer 2011 Poultry Press NEXT
Exclusive Interview with Poultry Welfare Pioneer Karen Davis, PhD
The Internet publication Free from Harm published an Interview with UPC president Karen Davis in February 2011. Following is a selection from the interview, which can be read in full at http://freefromharm.org.

Karen and Gwendolyn Q. In your opinion, what are the most effective ways to address poultry welfare issues?

A . As advocates we must continually educate ourselves about the animals we seek to help. In the case of chickens, we must inform ourselves not only about the conditions they endure on factory farms – the darkness, crowding, filth, diseases, mutilations, brutal handling, boredom, and so on – but about who they are when they are not suffering and being abused. When we learn about the natural life of chickens, their complex social relationships, their devotion to one another and their young, their intelligent abilities to enjoy and defend themselves, and all of the vigor and vibrancy of their lives in their own world of Chickendom, then something of the nature and depth of their suffering in industrial captivity can be communicated.

We need to help people understand that merely being outside of a cage or shuffled about in a movable pasture, while better than the most severe forms of confinement, does not constitute a humane or satisfying life for chickens. Despite thousands of years of domestication, chickens, even with traits bred into them for meat and egg production, are essentially the wild jungle fowl of their ancestry, with the same cravings for lush soil, trees, and activities suited to the tropical forests they originated in. Chickens in the natural world as well as feral chickens like those in Key West, Florida spend most of their time raising and protecting their families. Roosters, far from being bloodthirsty fighters, are basically family men, devoted to their hens and chicks. And, yes, they will defend their families to the death if necessary, as will a mother hen.

This said, I think the best way to address poultry welfare issues is by combining an affirmative animal rights-vegan advocacy with efforts to improve conditions for the billions of birds who will never live to see a vegan world. I believe we owe it to the birds to do what we can to make their lives less miserable through legislation and public pressure, and to hold the industries that own them accountable. Left to itself, animal agriculture has no morality. Decades of reading farming publications and attending poultry welfare meetings have taught me that people who raise and slaughter animals do not respect or empathize with animals but regard them solely as resources put here by “God” or Nature to feed and glorify humans.

Unfortunately, there is little we can do to help animals trapped in food production: it simply is too vast, hidden, and complicated to regulate or even monitor. Even as we work for reforms like banning battery cages for laying hens, which I think we should do, but without overstating what can actually be accomplished, the reality of an expanding population of nearly 7 billion people consuming 50 billion terrestrial animals each year and countless billions of sea animals means that the only true way to animal welfare (to animals faring well) lies in eliminating the demand for animal products in favor of vegetarian – vegan – food.

There are lots of things we can do to get people to care about animals and stop eating them. I think the most important thing is to stand up for animals and never, ever apologize for them or for caring about them. If there is one theme that has occupied me ever since I became an activist in the 1980s, it’s the lack of confidence that often surfaces when advocates face the public. I call this failure of nerve, conveyed through anxious, self-deprecating speech, “the rhetoric of apology in animal rights.” Replacing the rhetoric of apology with a confident rhetoric of affirmation for animals and a compassionate vegan world is vital. A vegan world is a place without slaughterhouses and animal slavery. It is a place where the fellowship of animals is valued, and the dignity of their lives and feelings is respected. Never say the public “isn’t ready.” Our task is to make people ready. “The Rhetoric of Apology” can be read at

Spring-Summer 2011 Poultry Press NEXT