What’s Wrong With the Chicken Industry?
“I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs, and I could neither see nor breathe….There must have been thirty thousand chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of me. They didn’t move, didn’t cluck. They were almost like statues of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend every minute of their six-week lives that way.“
—Michael Specter, New Yorker, April 14, 2003.
If you bit into a piece of grilled chicken or scrambled up an egg and I asked you where you thought it came from, you’d probably think of a sunny day with chickens grazing on fresh, green grass and roosters crowing. But, these days, that is rarely ever the picture. The truth is, today’s hens endure extremely short lifespans, inhumane deaths, unnecessary abuse, dirty slaughterhouse conditions, extremely confining cages, starvation, debeaking and unnatural hormones just because it’s CHEAPER. These disgusting habits also have an impact on humans, threatening our health and safety. In this article, you will discover the relevant cruelties in today’s farms and slaughterhouses, which the poultry industry has fought so hard to hide.
Chickens in most slaughterhouses live extremely short lives —lets take egg-laying hens, for example. The lifespan of an egg-laying hen is naturally 12-15 years. In factory farming, however, it’s a totally different story. First off, male “egg-layers” are killed within a day of their birth, since they are unable to lay eggs. Females are kept alive just until they are unable to lay any more eggs, when they are killed. The worst part about this is that egg-layers aren’t even used for food—they’re just killed because their living is not beneficial to the slaughterhouses. Also, broiler chickens experience even harsher treatment. They only live six to seven weeks, while the average lifespan is as many years.
Chickens tend to be immobilized, shackled upside down, placed in scalding tanks of electrified water, and then thrown onto the dreaded slaughter line, all while alive and conscious.
So I know it’s the workers job to kill them, and they’re told to use such inhumane methods, so it’s not really their fault—right? Wrong. Frustrated slaughterhouse workers have been caught on camera engaging in practices such as ripping off birds’ necks, drop-kicking them like footballs, spitting tobacco in their eyes, violently slamming them against walls, twisting their heads off, peeing on them and squeezing them so hard that their bodies expel feces, just for the workers’ own enjoyment. Several undercover reports of this abuse in Tyson’s,Perdue and Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouses have been released, which is quite disturbing, considering they are the three most popular brands of chicken in the United States Also, abuse in the slaughterhouse tends to lead to violent humane abuse, which I will discuss later in this article.
Dirty Slaughterhouse Conditions
Slaughterhouses are infamous for having terrible living conditions. They are typically windowless, dimly lit buildings with thousands of cages piled on top of one another. Feces from upper cages drip through the bars, and cages are never cleaned. The high ammonia levels cause blindness among the chickens, and many chickens experience hock burns and ulcerated feet. Since they are kept so close together in such a dirty place, many chickens die from gumboro, ascites, and chicken anemia—some only babies!
Extremely Confining Cages
Ninety five percent of eggs in the U.S. come from chickens kept in battery cages. One battery cage typically holds five to six chickens, leaving each chicken with 67 square inches of living space, which is less than a sheet of notebook paper. A chicken needs 75 square inches to stand up straight and 303 square inches to flap their wings, which they are nowhere close to being able to do in battery cages. Cages like this don’t even allow birds enough space to extend their limbs, turn, ruffle their feathers and dust-bathe, essential activities for chickens. Not being able to do these things results in abnormal behaviors, which are dangerous to other hens. Rubbing against bars of these cages also cause bruises and extreme feather loss.
The chicken and egg industry has hit a new low (even for them). They have recently been starving their laying hens for two-week periods of time, simply because it doesn’t cost as much as buying feed for all chickens, and because it has been shown that starved laying hens produce more eggs. This starvation process is called forced molting. Dr. Peter Dun, an animal scientist from Scotland, said hens are force molted in the United States “until their combs turn blue.” (Scotland, along with all of Europe officially outlawed all Battery Cages this past January).
Because the cages are so confined, chickens become very bored and stressed. This leads to a number of abnormal behaviors such as feather-pecking, vent-pecking and even cannibalism. To prevent these behaviors, (instead of the logical solution of putting them in cages where they can actually move), the workers have two solutions: low-lighting and debeaking. (Keeping the slaughterhouse dimly lit supposedly decreases these behaviors but, as a result, the chickens become even more stressed.) Debeaking is just like it sounds, the cutting off of part of a bird’s beak. Debeaking is usually performed when the chickens are only one day of age, and can be a painful process, cutting tissue and cartilage (It’s like having your nose cut off the day after you were born.)
Chickens are overloaded with growth hormones, opposed to proper feed. In fact, we use so many hormones in the U.S. that the UK stopped buying meat from us back in 1985, in fear of health hazards. The hormones they are given enable the chickens to mature into their adult size two times quicker than natural, with one third the amount of food. These hormones also cause them to have much more breast fat as they naturally would, making them top-heavy and unable to move. This causes them to suffer from Osteoporosis, liver and kidney diseases, and heart failure, before even hitting the slaughter line.
Impact on Humans
The hormones given to poultry have been shown to disrupt one’s hormonal balance, which can negatively impact a woman’s mood, fertility, cause reproductive system problems and early puberty in girls. Hormones also have been shown to increase risk of prostate and breast cancer. Chickens bred with little exercise and growth hormones also have more fat, which makes the consumer have more fat as well. Dirty Slaughterhouse Conditions lead to outbreaks, such as E.Coli and Salmonella, which leads to infections. One study showed that E.Coli spread from chickens resulted in urinary tract infections in the consumers of the chicken. Unnecessary abuse of chickens causes hock burns, which are even visible when chickens are packaged, and are truly disturbing. Lastly, research such as this study in Chicago showed that abusing animals in a slaughterhouse links to cruel behavior towards other humans, such as violence, crime and rape.
So, now that you know all of the cruelties of the poultry and egg industry, you’re probably wondering what you can do. Food-wise, you know who to avoid (Pilgrim’s Pride, Purdue, Tyson’s and anything from McDonalds or KFC) and try to buy meat and eggs from Whole Foods. But beware, many brands will say that they’re “cage-free” or “organic” but don’t believe it until you see a Certified Humane logo. Here’s a blog I wrote listing organizations, grocery stores, farms and restaurants who you we can trust. You can click here to find places in your area that are “Animal Welfare Approved”, which I think is a really trustworthy organization. All animals must either be pasture-raised or free range, and they have these long, humane, hard-to-meet standards for laying hens, including the prohibition of debeaking,hormones and dim-lighting, the constant access to food and fresh, clean water, and a certain minimum space requirement to prevent extreme confinement.
Lastly, if you want to try to advocate change, there’s so many different ways you can go, mainly since there’s so many problems with the chicken industry. One way is following the example of California’s Proposition 2, trying to outlaw battery cages and provide chickens with more living space. I am currently trying to outlaw the use of battery cages in my county, then I’ll move onto state level, then maybe Federal.
Another way you could go is to try to increase regulations for what brands can claim, to prevent them from misleading consumers into thinking they’re actually “organic”, “free-range” or “humane.” You could try to ban debeaking. You could just spread the word, because majority of society doesn’t know what you now do, and how can they make change if they’re not informed? You could boycott KFC, urge McDonalds to adapt Controlled atmosphere killing, support H.R. 7398(a 2012 federal bill to improve laying conditions for hens), sign a petition for Wegman’s Eggs to phase out battery cages, there are so many ways you can help advocate for justice in the chicken and egg industry.
And remember, everything you do makes a huge difference and saves the lives of many chickens, be it on county level, federal, state or even just boycotting Tyson’s in your household. Besides, if the UK outlawed Battery cages, so can the US! We are the people and we can make a change. Those days of chickens grazing in the pasture, in fresh air and warm sunlight, baby chicks resting under their mother’s wing, who says they’re gone? It isn’t too late, we can return to that idyllic way of agriculture, we can turn this country around. And then, somehow, someday, there will be