20 August 2020

A chicken processing plant in Lewiston, North Carolina
Photograph: Glowimages/Getty

An Open Letter to The Guardian

To the Editors of The Guardian, which invites readers to “send us your stories and thoughts at animalsfarmed@theguardian.com.”

Karen Davis, PhD, United Poultry Concerns

From farm to factory: The unstoppable rise of American chicken, The Guardian, Aug. 17, 2020.

Sarah Mock’s article, “From Farm to Factory,” Aug. 17, 2020, is deeply disappointing. It is offensive in its tone, in its pro-industry perspective, and in its misrepresentation of chickens as inherently aggressive in the sense of being compulsively or crazily violent. She writes, for example, about the chicken industry’s “problem” with chickens’ personalities:

Gentle dispositions are also a must as chickens are naturally aggressive and even cannibalistic, especially in confined spaces and large numbers. Poultry houses are more profitable the more birds are inside, so reducing the chickens’ natural disposition to fight and eat one another is key to facilitating modern poultry rearing. Faster-maturing birds also tend to be gentler, because aggressive behavior is more common among sexually mature chickens, a milestone most broilers never reach.

Chickens have a complex, well-organized social structure that PREVENTS destructive aggressivity toward one another from being enacted. And they have a great deal of gentleness and affection in them, contrary to Mock’s implication that “gentleness” can only be instilled in chickens, artificially, through genetic manipulation. The characterization of chickens as lacking a “gentle disposition,” apart from genetic tampering, is false, and the birds being talked about here are baby chicks six weeks old and younger.

Has Mock ever been around a normal family of chickens comprising both parents and their young? If so, she would see that the “aggression” she is invoking in this article does not normally occur within the family when they are living together among trees and bushes, with good soil, sunshine and other environmental elements to which chickens are attuned through evolution. Do young chickens playfully spar with each other? Sure ‐ just as young animals of all social species do.

I’ve visited many “broiler” chicken houses on the Eastern Shore in the United States. What is striking upon opening the latch to one of these 600-foot-long sheds, in addition to the eye and throat burning toxic fumes, is the complete lack of animation among the birds within a week or so of their birth. As a journalist once wrote after seeing the chickens in the industrial sheds in the UK: Instead of being lively and quick and peeping and chirping like normal chickens, they were “a sea of stationary grey objects.” This behavior does not equate with the true meaning of “gentleness.” These birds are in a condition of pain, lameness, fear, bewilderment and learned helplessness. They are imprisoned in alien, dysfunctional bodies, in confinement facilities full of filth including atmospheric poisons and contaminants. What will it take for our species to realize that treating creatures this way is a crime, an iniquity?

And so is aiding and abetting this crime with callous, careless, flippant, heartless journalism.

Which is it? On the one hand, chickens are falsely portrayed in conventional discourse as “cowardly”; on the other hand, as per Mock, they are called “naturally aggressive” with a “natural disposition to fight.” Visit our chicken sanctuary and see for yourself who they are and what they do when they aren’t being tormented by people. Or read: The Social Life of Chickens in Thinking Like a Chicken.

If there is an aggressor in Mock’s picture, it is the human being. The accompanying photo shows the maniacal brutality and pitilessness of the poultry industry toward defenseless birds who are put through hell for a product that no one needs ‐ and even if it were needed, such harsh mistreatment of our fellow creatures could never be justified. There is nothing in the nature and normal experience of chickens that even begins to compare with the horrific aggression of human beings toward them. Mock’s piece is a rhetorical replica of the physical abusiveness of the poultry industry. There is no excuse for such callous disregard for the suffering of others of any species, especially when the suffering is deliberately inflicted, and especially in a publication professing high standards of fair and accurate journalism.

I would appreciate a response from you and would welcome your sharing my letter with your readers. Thank you for your attention.



Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
Office: 757-678-7875
Email: karen@upc-online.org
Website: www.upc-online.org


KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl (Lantern Books, 2019).