Action Alert

Cloned Chickens, Facially Disfigured Chicks, & Blinded Hens

The Futuristic Fate of Domestic Fowl in 2001-2002

"They are proliferating lives that endure nothing but misery. It's the new horror for animals in the 21st century." United Poultry Concerns President Dr. Karen Davis, quoted in "Poultry industry not ready for cloning" by Joe Cacchioli, The Daily Times, Salisbury, Md, Jan. 18, 2002.

Cloned Chickens
Unlike transgenic birds, who have had genes from other species inserted into their embryos, cloned birds have had embryonic stem cells from members of their own species microinjected into their eggs to duplicate virtually identical birds. "The idea is to create identical copies of eggs with desirable traits [more 'meat,' faster growing, etc.] that can roll off assembly lines by the billions," says biotechnology writer Paul Elias of the Associated Press (Jan. 10, 2002). On Aug. 18, 2001 New Scientist announced that the US's National Institute of Science and Technology has given Origen Therapeutics of Burlingame, Calif., and Embrex of North Carolina, $4.7 million to fund chicken cloning experiments for the poultry industry. A "problem" to be solved is that, unlike the eggs of mammals, birds' eggs cannot be removed and implanted in another bird, because the yoke is too fragile and the avian ovum's pronuclei cannot be visualized for microinjection, By the time a hen lays her egg, an embryo has already begun to develop on the yolk and has about 60,000 cells.

Just as transgenic animals are ridden with gastric ulcers, arthritis, blindness, defective organs, impaired (or no) immune systems, and other human-created maladies, so are cloned animals. If a chicken used for cloning is vulnerable to a disease, all of that bird's clones will be vulnerable to that disease. Scientific speculation on the causes of cloning calamities is that, in cloning, an egg is forced to do complex tasks in minutes or hours that in nature take weeks, months or years. Evidence indicates that the artificially rapid reprogramming in cloning can introduce random errors into the clone's DNA, subtly altering individual genes with consequences that can halt embryo or fetal development, killing the clone.

Or gene alterations may be fatal soon after birth or lead to major medical problems later in life. Dr. Brigid Hogan, a professor of cell biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville says that human cloning under these conditions "would be morally indefensible." Dr. Rudolph Jaenisch, a professor of biology at the Whitehead Institute at MIT, says putting humans through what humans put nonhuman animals through "would be reckless and irresponsible. What do you do with humans who are born with half a kidney or no immune system?" Dr. Mark E. Westhusin, a cloning researcher at Texas A&M University says that cow clones are often born with enlarged hearts or lungs that do not develop properly. (The New York Times, March 25, 2001).

And just as transgenic research animals may be "passed for human consumption," according to the US Dept of Agriculture's "Points to Consider in the Food Safety Evaluation of Transgenic Animals from Transgenic Animal Research," March 1994, so we may expect cloned research chickens, turkeys, cows, sheep, pigs, and fish to end up in supermarkets and restaurants without warning labels.

Fetal Chick with Two Beaks.
In an experiment at the University of British Colombia, a research team headed by Dr. Joy Richman, a pediatric dentist at UBC, blocked the activity of a protein that stimulates bone growth in chickens, and added a vitamin A-derived acid. As a result, "[t]he growth factors changed how bone and cartilage grew to form a second, nostril-less beak beside the original," according to the journal Nature (Lee, et al., "Signalling: Facial development in the embryo," Dec. 20, 2001) and CBC News (Dec. 20). Richman made a hole in an eggshell and put microscopic protein-soaked beads on the embryo's face. Two weeks later, the fetal chick had two beaks. "It's equivalent to growing a second nose on the side of the cheek," Richman said. [No, Dr. Richman. For a bird, it's like having a second mouth and hand on the side of the cheek.-United Poultry Concerns Editor's Note].

Her next step is "to have genes send different signals to grow other parts of the face." In other words, Richman will now be funded to create every possible facial deformity in fetal chickens, and her grant proposals will argue that "developmental biologists say the finding could help scientists understand normal facial development and what causes facial deformities." The chick fetus with two beaks appeared on the cover of Nature, Dec. 20, 2001.

Blinding Hens
On NPR's Morning Edition, Dec. 4, 2001, issues raised at a recent National Academy of Sciences meeting about genetically modified animals were aired. The National Academy of Sciences has been asked to study what the FDA and the USDA should consider in giving the okay for genetically modified meat and fish to be sold in grocery stores. So far, the USDA has said, "If it looks like a cow, smells like a cow, it is a cow, and you can eat it."

Proponents claim "genetic engineering simply does what nature does, only faster and more precisely." In addition to human health and environmental concerns, welfare concerns were raised. "Nobody worries about how the corn feels, but when it comes to animals, is it fair to do this to them?" Fish genetically modified to grow much faster and larger than normal fish, and hens genetically modified to be blind, were cited as examples of ethically problematic "solutions" to agribusiness "problems."

Paul Thompson, a philosophy professor at Purdue University (NPR did not mention that Paul Thompson happens to be the director of Purdue's "Center for Food Animal and Productivity and Well-Being"), cited the "blind chicken problem." He said that chickens blinded by "accident" have been developed into a strain of blind chickens. These chickens, he said, "don't mind being crowded together so much as normal chickens do One suggestion has been that we ought to shift over to all blind chickens as a solution to our animal welfare problems associated with crowding in the poultry industry. Is this permissible on animal welfare grounds? This is a philosophical conundrum. If you think it's the welfare of the individual animal that really matters here, how the animals are doing, then it would be more humane to have these blind chickens. On the other hand, anyone you ask thinks this is an absolutely horrendous thing to do."

NPR reporter David Kestenbaum who attended the NAS meeting and narrated the segment, concluded that "the meeting showed how hard it is to untangle numbers from beliefs."

To order NPR transcripts call 1-877-677-8398

Further Reading:

The Ethics of Genetic Engineering and the Futuristic Fate of Domestic Fowl, by Karen Davis, PhD

Unraveling the DNA Myth: The spurious foundation of genetic engineering, by Barry Commoner, Harper's Magazine, Feb. 2002: 39-47.

The Gene and the Stable Door: Biotechnology and Farm Animals, by Dr. Jacky Turner for the Compassion in World Farming Trust (2002). Email: Website:

To learn more about the genetic engineering of domestic fowl-the promises, protocols, and problems-- visit

What Can I Do?

In addition to going and staying vegan, write letters to the editor and to TV and radio program directors explaining your ethical concerns about the genetic modification of animals. Urge the news media to inform the public about the suffering of genetically modified animals, to raise questions about the moral appropriateness of causing such suffering, and to state honestly the professional affiliations of their "experts." For example, why didn't the NPR segment on genetically modified animals mention that "philosopher" Paul Thompson is the director of the Center for "Food Animal Productivity" at Perdue University. No wonder he didn't say that hens should be given more space, with opportunities to exercise their natural behavior, but said instead that the crowding of intentionally blinded hens is a "humane" solution to the behavioral abnormalities caused by crowding.
Contact Information:

Letters to the UK journal Nature:

Morning Edition
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Ellen McDonnell, Executive Producer
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Kevin Klose, CEO
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Albert E. Pope
United Egg Producers
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Atlanta, GA 30350
Ph: 770-587-5871; fax: 0041

George Watts, President
National Chicken Council
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Washington, DC 20005
Ph: 202-296-2622
Fax: 202-293-4005

Dr. Bruce Albert, President
Office of News & Public Affairs
National Academy of Sciences
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Ph: 202-334-2000; fax: 2158