The Ethics of Genetic Engineering and
the Futuristic Fate of Domestic Fowl
By Karen Davis, PhD
This paper was presented at "The Ethics of Genetic Engineering and Animal
Patents Conference", held
by The Alliance for Animals on October 12, 1996, at the University
For thousands of years human beings have manipulated the bodies and
family life of birds for their flesh, eggs, and other characteristics.
The lives of birds have been disrupted for human convenience against
their will. Twentieth-century critics of poultry factory farming often
invoke traditional family farming as a humane alternative to modern
poultry agriculture. They suggest that, ethically, we need to go back to
old-fashioned animal husbandry.
Others dismiss the idea that the pre-factory farming era was idyllic
for birds and other animals on the farm, suggesting, rather, that factory
farming is an extension of age-old attitudes and customs in regard to
animals raised for food. Recalling 16th-century England, Andrew Johnson
says in Factory Farming, for example, that the modern battery-cage
building is little more than a greatly magnified replica of the
Renaissance housewife's kitchen hen coop.1
The genetic engineering of birds and other animals to produce food
and practice science can thus be seen together with factory farming
mainly as either a departure from tradition or an extension of it.
Proponents argue that genetic engineering is "no different in principle
from what happens when new hybrids or plant varieties are created through
traditional breeding techniques."2
Others say that while humans have manipulated species for millennia,
biotechnology, and in particular genetic engineering, "represents a
quantum leap in species manipulation."3 This viewpoint is summarized by
Jeremy Rifkin in his contrast between past and future: "In all of
humanity's past experience, living things enjoyed a separate, unique, and
identifiable place in the
order of nature. There were always rabbits and robins, oaks and
ostriches, and while human beings could tinker with the surface of each,
they couldn't penetrate to the interior of any. . . . The redesign of
existing organisms and the engineering of wholly new ones marks a
qualitative break with humanity's entire past relationship to the living
world. . . . Engineering new forms of life requires a wholesale
transformation of our thought patterns."4
In the past, humans manipulated birds and other animals as much as
they could using tools specifically designed and otherwise available for
the purpose. Historical evidence does not indicate that previous
societies practiced ethical restraint in their treatment of nonhuman
animals. For instance, the notion that Native Americans showed a high
degree of compassion for nonhuman life is more wishful thinking than
actual fact. The ritual sacrifice of chickens and other animals as an
integral part of traditional religious ceremonies by many cultures
throughout the world shows that the conferring of "sanctity" upon a
creature is no protection against extreme cruelty towards that creature
and may even be invoked as an excuse for it. Neither the past nor
contemporary cultures can be taken as models for a just and compassion
future with other species.
If humanity's past relationship to the living world did not include
genetic engineering, this was not because of superior ethical attitudes
in previous eras. Today, Western technology has materialized certain
human impulses and brought together an accumulation of skills,
techniques, and arguments in the service of those impulses. It enables us
to do what farming, pharmacology, and business enterprise would have done
long ago if it had been possible. Proponents of genetic engineering can
reasonably claim that the practice is "no more than the evolution of
biological methods, each new discovery spawning additional discoveries."5
This claim encompasses a moral and descriptive
outlook on our relationship to other creatures. Current and traditional
use of animals in agriculture excludes "standard, traditional, and
customary agricultural practices," however cruel, from the meaning of
cruelty.6 For example, it is customary and legal in the United States to
starve hens for weeks at a time in order to manipulate egg production,
until their combs turn blue, or they die.7 People may visit any animal
auction in rural America where they will see furniture being treated with
much more care and consideration than a calf or a baby chicken.8
The treatment of poultry in the past was cruel, even excluding
cockfighting, cock-throwing (burying chickens in the ground up to their
necks and stoning them to death), and other sadistic sports against
birds. In Renaissance England, poultry and game-birds "were often
fattened in darkness and confinement, sometimes being blinded as well.
'The cock being gelded,' it was explained, 'he is called a capon and is
crammed [force fed] in a coop.' Geese were thought to put on weight if
the webs of their feet were nailed to the floor; and it was the custom of
some seventeenth-century housewives to cut the legs off living fowl in
the belief that it made their flesh more tender.. . . . The London
poulterers kept thousands of live birds in their cellars and attics . . .
In 1842 Edwin Chadwick found that fowls were still being reared in town
In the European Age of Enlightenment, "Turkeys were very slowly bled
to death suspended upside down from the kitchen ceiling." Geese
"repeatedly were plucked of their feathers while alive in order to
provide writing quills."10 In London, chickens developed fevers
"occasioned by the infamous practice of sewing up the gut, that they may
be the sooner fattened in coops, in consequence of this cruel
retention." 11 In one Italian town, a modern observer watched a buyer as
she "clutched the chicken by the legs, several times unknowingly and
uncaringly banged its head against the ground, weighed it while yanking
it to and fro,
and finally dumped it into her sack. Then she must have forgotten
something, pulled the chicken out again, but only halfway, stuck its legs
into the railings of a nearby fence, left it dangling undoubtedly with
broken legs and walked away." 12
It is from this past history that the futuristic fate of chickens
and other domestic fowl unfolds.
The Twentieth Century
Chickens were the first farm animals to be permanently confined
indoors in automated systems based on intensive genetic selection,
dietary manipulation, antibiotics, and drugs. According to Broiler
Industry magazine, "Poultry became the first agribusiness because all of
the factors making mechanization possible were potentially present, not
the least of which was the nature of the animal itself. Relatively large
number of units could be handled by a single individual, in confined
The treatment of chickens, turkeys, and other domestic fowl in
modern society leads logically to genetic engineering. The mechanized
environment, mutilations, starvation procedures, artificial insemination,
and methodology of mass-murdering billions of birds in food production
and science raise many profound and unsettling questions about our
society and our species. It is not only the human behavior, but the
attitude, as exemplified in the following statement by a poultry
scientist regarding the onset of hysteria in caged hens: "A product of
man's concentration of poultry under situations of stress is the
appearance of a condition known as avian hysteria. The afflicted flock's
behavior is typified by extreme nervousness, often exhibited at closely
spaced timed intervals with clock-like regularity. Hysteria appears to be
related to the number per group and pen size. This condition, first
reported in the late 1950's, is linked to man's concentration of bird
conditions of total confinement." 14
By nature, chickens and turkeys are alert and nimble forest-dwellers
and foragers who have been forced to subsist in alien bodies and alien
environments that manifest human psychic patterns, not theirs. They are
not suited to the life imposed on them in order to satisfy human wants in
the modern world. Broiler chickens have been forced to grow three and a
half times faster than normal chickens through dietary and genetic
manipulations for meat production, resulting in painful skeletal and
metabolic diseases. An example is tibial dyschondroplasia, in which the
growing bird's young leg bones develop crippling fissures and fractures.
Several decades ago, 1.2 percent of chickens suffered from tibial
dyschondroplasia. Today 49 percent of broiler chickens--baby birds
slaughtered at seven weeks old--suffer from this human-created disease. 15
Yet, a major thrust of genetic engineering is to increase the
chicken's growth rate. A 1991 article in Feedstuffs entitled
"Biotechnology to lead to poultry developments" notes that even though
increased growth rate causes the broiler chicken to "become more prone
to leg weakness, specifically tibial dyschondroplasia . . . [g]enetic
potential will not be a limiting factor in the further improvement of
growth rate." 16
It is from this current outlook rooted in the past that the
futuristic fate of chickens and other domestic fowl proceeds.
Let us look at three primary aspects of genetic engineering of
domestic fowl: the promises, the protocols, and the problems.
- Completion of a chicken genetic map. "When the chicken genetic map is
completed it should provide a means of selecting production traits for a
variety of desires." 17 In 1993, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture funded for five years the National Animal
Genome Research Project. The purpose of this Project is to develop
genetic maps for agriculturally important species--
"cattle, swine, sheep and poultry." The Project's headquarters for gene
mapping of poultry is the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, Avian
Disease and Oncology Laboratory in East Lansing, Michigan. According to
one of the researchers, "The main goal of our laboratory is to decode the
genetic information provided in the chicken genome. . . . Armed with this
powerful tool, researchers will be able to identify and isolate regions
of the chicken genome that influence production traits such as feed
efficiency or disease resistance. This information could, in turn, lead
to improved methods for breeding superior chickens. In addition, much of
the information and technologies will be readily transferable within
poultry since the genomes of other avian species such as turkeys and
ducks are similar to the chicken genome." 18
This U.S. laboratory is working with other laboratories around the
world, in England, Scotland, The Netherlands, and Israel. The effort to
identify economically important genes in poultry is coordinated by an
International Poultry Genome Workshop that meets every two years.
Commercially, as a result of large investments and expected profits, the
United States also has "secrecy and confidentiality agreements which
accompany an intense competitive relationship between laboratories and
between countries." 19
- Manipulation of Growth Characteristics in Poultry. Under the heading
of "The Chicken Industry: New Products Promise Change," Genetic
Technology News predicted in 1988 that "Recombinant products that can
improve growth offer the biggest potential market for genetically
engineered products." 20 Therefore, "Growth promotion will be the primary
target for application of
recombinant DNA techniques directly to chickens." 21 According to the
forecast, use of recombinant growth hormone in genetically engineered
chickens could become commercially feasible in a
competitive market in the near future.
For example, Merck & Co. (the pharmaceutical company that owns
Hubbard [chicken] Farms and British United Turkeys Limited), has been
doing experiments on chickens using growth hormones from cattle. In the
early 1990s, Merck filed for a European patent on a "Macro Chicken,"
described on the patent application as a "transgenic fowl expressing
bovine growth hormone." 22
At the same time, geneticists have been searching for a fat-reducing
gene to insert into the germ plasm of commercial broiler chickens. This
is because selection for body weight in the 20th century tripled the
appetite and number of fat cells in broiler chickens so that they "became
unable to synthesize protein and lean meat fast enough to keep pace with
increased intake of food energy. The excess food energy was deposited as
lipids, and broilers became fatter." 23 With all this in mind, genetic
engineers envision a prospect of manipulating the chicken's DNA to make
chickens grow larger, leaner, and faster, and of changing the shape and
composition of their bodies. Never mind the chicken, for in this vision,
as a biotech company president said, "I'm not sure that birds have
preferences about their body shape." 24
- Disease Resistance in Poultry. Modern poultry production has created
new diseases and pathology syndromes, of which a major example is Marek's
disease, an infectious immunosuppressive cancer that fills the chicken's
spinal chord and peripheral nervous system with malignant tumors,
resulting in paralysis, blindness, and death. It is caused by an airborne
that localizes in the feather follicles and is sloughed through the
dander and feather particles to float in the air and be inhaled by the
birds in the dirty, crowded environments in which even their feathers are
fatal. Marek's disease vaccines have so far succeeded only in suppressing
the disease, not preventing it.
In fact, a 1996 article in Broiler Industry says that "Marek's disease
condemnations and mortality are on the rise, increasing with each passing
year during the 1990s." 25
Considering the economic consequences of Marek's disease and other
poultry epidemics, research is being done to develop vaccines using
recombinant DNA technology, whereby certain large DNA viruses, such as
fowl pox, can be engineered to express foreign genes such as Marek's
disease genes that code for specific immunizing proteins that could
protect chicken flocks against widespread infections like Marek's
disease. Currently, the Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory in East
Lansing, Michigan is conducting experiments to identify and locate genes
that confer resistance to Marek's disease, infecting and reproducing
chickens specifically inbred for Marek's disease resistance and
susceptibility, respectively. 26
Other poultry diseases that have been targeted for genetic
engineering include avian influenza, an untreatable viral disease
affecting the respiratory, enteric, and nervous system of birds; and
salmonella 27 (of which there are more than 2,000 strains, including a
deadly new antibiotic-resistant strain in Britain--Salmonella typhimurium
DT104--adding to the over 40 microbiological pathogens in animal products
that are known to cause human illnesses and death). 28
- Miscellaneous Prospects. Other future scenarios include modifying hens
to lay eggs with lower cholesterol and to make in their eggs proteins
from other species (foreign or heterologous proteins) for use by the
pharmaceutical industry; 29 modifying
broiler chickens for improved flavor; and creating chickens with flesh
tailored in texture for microwave ovens. 30
- Conservation of Genetic Resources of Stocks of Domestic Poultry. At
the First International Symposium on the Artificial
Insemination of Poultry (University of Maryland, College Park, June
1994), a talk was given entitled "Beyond Freezing Semen." According to
the speaker from the University of Guelph in Ontario, "The ability to
cryopreserve [preserve by freezing] diploid cells that can enter the
germline is an essential component of programs designed to conserve
genetic resources of stocks of domestic poultry." 31 Cryopreservation of
cells and tissues from chickens and other avian species could
theoretically provide a convenient stock of genetic resources from which
specific poultry genotypes could be recovered. The speaker described a
particular experiment in which unincubated fresh and frozen blastodermal
cells (tiny reproductive cells from which the embryo develops) from
Barred Rock chicken embryos were injected into 235 and 398 unincubated
recipient White Leghorn chicken embryos, respectively. The idea was to
see whether and to what extent a certain plumage characteristic of the
donor chickens showed up in the recipient chickens and their offspring,
as a way of testing the effects of freezing and thawing blastodermal
cells on germline transmission.
Although no evidence for the incorporation of previously frozen
blastodermal cells into the germline was obtained, and although the
majority of the 633 embryos died in the shell--only 21 birds hatched--the
researchers concluded that "The presence of donor-derived somatic tissues
in chimeras produced by injecting blastodermal cells that have been
frozen and thawed implies that a genetic conservation program could be
created using cryopreserved cells from unincubated embryos."32
Chickens are suitable for gene manipulation because, unlike other
domestic animals, they mature quickly, and a single bird can have
thousands of offspring. Foreign genes need only to be inserted into one
generation, which pass[es] the genes on.
Unfortunately, genetic material cannot be introduced into recently
fertilised ova of birds in this way. 33
The above example of freezing and thawing of embryonic cells removed
from one group of birds and inserted into another gives an idea of the
laboratory methods that are being used to manipulate chickens genetically
and to test various hypotheses. A major current effort focuses on
overcoming the inaccessibility of the fertilized ova in birds. 34 In
mammals, such as mice, the fertilized ova are relatively easy to obtain
in large numbers and they have visible pronuclei for DNA microinjection.
However, a hen generates only one fertilized ovum per day. This ovum, the
yolk, is large and fragile. Its cytoplasm makes the pronuclei impossible
to visualize for DNA microinjection. By the time the egg is laid the
embryo has already begun to develop on the yolk and has about 60,000
cells. Research protocols seek to overcome these obstacles. Some examples
In the mid-1980s, a researcher at the Institute of Animal Physiology
and Genetics Research in Edinburgh injected foreign DNA into single-cell
embryos and then cultured them through hatching in vitro. The embryo was
removed from the oviduct of the hen, placed in various vessels containing
solutions similar to those in an egg, then placed in an artificially
prepared eggshell sealed with glue made from albumen and antibiotics, and
artificially incubated through hatching. New Scientist hailed this as
"The world's first test-tube chickens [opening] the way
for researchers to create 'super-chicken' by inserting foreign DNA into
chick embryos." 35
- In 1993, Poultry Science published an article describing a National
Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported study of the potential of the avian
liver to express (i.e. manifest a trait caused by a particular gene)
recombinant proteins in vivo. The
research was designed to estimate use of the avian liver "to influence
growth rates, metabolism, body fat composition, and the effectiveness of
various drugs" and be a model for treatment of human genetic diseases. 36
In the experiment, avian leukosis retroviral vectors were used to
introduce a recombinant rat neomycin-resistance gene into chicken embryos
both before and during incubation. Upon hatching the surviving chicks
were killed by cervical dislocation (neck-breaking) and their tissues
were frozen in liquid nitrogen for further analysis.
- In 1994, an article in Bio/Technology described a method of producing
transgenic chickens based on microinjection of DNA into the germinal disc
of chick zygotes followed by ex vivo embryo culture. Eggs used in the
study came from 30-40 week-old Euribrid Hi-Sex hens, "a layer strain
chosen for hatchability and docility." 37 The hens were artificially
inseminated weekly with pooled semen from cockerels (young roosters) of
the same strain. The hens were then killed by intravenous injection of an
anesthetic overdose of Expiral, and their abdomens were opened and the
oviduct section containing the shell-less egg was removed. The eggs were
placed in a surrogate shell and DNA was injected into the cytoplasm of
the germinal disc of the zygotes. The shell was then filled with a
culture medium and sealed shut. The fate of plasmid DNA microinjected
into the germinal disc of zygotes was analyzed in embryos that survived
for at least 12 days in culture. Of the 128 original ova, seven chicks
to sexual maturity. Of these, one rooster transmitted the DNA to 3.4
percent of his offspring. Of these offspring, those who survived to
sexual maturity have been bred to produce transgenic offspring,
"demonstrating that stable transmission of foreign DNA can be obtained by
our method." 38
- The aim of a study published in the November 1995 issue of
Transgenic Research was "to develop a safe retroviral system to obtain
transgenic chickens." 39 The problem being addressed is the fact that
replicating avian retroviruses used in vivo can be pathogenic even after
a long time, increasing the risk of disease states associated with
chronic viral infection. As the avian spleen necrosis virus (SNV) is
closely related to mammalian retroviruses, and it has been found that SNV
can infect human cells, the researcher claim they sought, and have
developed, a way to produce transgenic chickens using replication
defective vectors based on a system (an "ecotropic" system) which is able
to infect avian cells only.
Using vectors derived from ecotropic avian leukosis viruses, the
researchers microinjected foreign genes (a neomycin- resistance gene and
certain type of bacterial gene) into the subgerminal cavity of
unincubated chicken embryo blastoderms. DNA was then extracted from these
embryos and injected into another group of unincubated chicken embryos.
Of the group of 1550 chicken embryos infected with the ecotropic vectors,
only 36 hatched. According to the researchers, most died early after
injection due mainly to their opening the eggshells. One surviving
rooster managed to transmit vector DNA to his progeny, at a rate of 2.2
percent. The researchers concluded that the data presented in their
report demonstrated "the efficacy of ecotropic avian retroviral vectors
to produce transgenic chickens." 40
As noted above, the inaccessibility of the newly fertilized egg
presents an obstacle to the direct injection of DNA into the avian embryo
to produce germline transformations. This obstacle has challenged
researchers to develop methods to penetrate to the avian interior and win
the battle against the birds and their progeny. Following are a number of
other technical and practical
problems identified by the genetic engineers of avian species.
- Only a proportion of the blastodermal cells that are injected into
the inner cell mass of recipient embryos are precursors of the germline.
To date, these primordial germ cells--cells that are uniquely destined
for the germline--cannot be identified until the embryo has been
incubated for about 18 hours and has already begun to develop. 41
- The developmental capabilities of cells contained within an
unincubated blastoderm are poorly understood. Consequently, the
relationship between somatic chimerism (appearance of foreign-gene
characteristics in the immediate recipient) and germline chimerism
(genetic transmission of those characteristics to subsequent generations)
cannot be predicted. 42 Birds who do show evidence of donor contribution to
somatic tissues (e.g., feather pigmentation) seldom or erratically
transmit this contribution to their offspring. Somatic chimeras do not
guarantee germline chimeras, and the incorporation and persistence of
injected DNA in the chick zygote is poor: it may occur in some or none of
the cells of the recipient bird. For example, a 1993 article in Poultry
Science noted that the appearance of donor-derived feather pigmentation
cells in experimental chimeric chickens did not correlate with donor-
derived spermatozoa in the semen of these birds. 43
- Chicken growth hormone "has not shown the dramatic effectiveness of
the corresponding recombinant hormones in increasing milk output of cows
or lean meat in hogs." 44 The regulatory growth mechanisms in birds are
poorly understood, as shown above, and may require the use of several
different hormones to produce the desired growth characteristic at the
right time and place of development.
- "Problems with transgenic farm animals abound," 45 including
undesirable "side effects": high death rate, short life span, biological
weakness, and pathology syndromes. For example, chickens infected with a
retroviral transgene at the USDA's Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory
in East Lansing, Michigan developed lymphoid leukosis, "apparently from
recombination between the transgene and endogenous viruses." 46
- Blastodermal cells "are compromised as they are frozen and thawed." 47
The number of somatic chimeras (in this case, chicks with donor-derived
plumage and feather pigmentation) that resulted when fresh blastodermal
donor cells were injected into recipient cells was vastly reduced when
the donor cells had been frozen and thawed prior to injection into
recipient cells. Moreover, the germline chimeras dropped from 25 percent
of the somatic chimeras produced with fresh cells, "to 0 out of the nine
chimeras from frozen-thawed cells." 48 In 1994, researchers concluded that
the production of germline chimeras from frozen-thawed blastodermal cells
had yet to be demonstrated. 49
- Other problems cited by genetic engineers include "long laborious
breeding programs, and an uncertain future with regulatory agencies,
animal rights advocates, and consumers." 50
Ethical Considerations and the Futuristic Fate of Domestic Fowl
Ethical protest against the genetic engineering of birds and other
animals has focused primarily on the violation of species integrity,
although attention has also been given to the suffering of individual
animals, and a moral repugnance has been shown against defining animals
as patentable "manufactures and compositions of matter." 51 This definition
represents a further debasement of nonhuman animals from their
traditional low status as human property lacking value and claims in
their own right.
Animals used in genetic engineering are further degraded in not even
being recognized as whole beings but only insofar as they embody a
certain DNA sequence, genetic resource, model system, production trait,
or body part. A poultry scientist told his colleagues at a recent
convention, "We are no longer selling broilers, we are selling pieces. A
knowledge of how broilers of different strains and sexes grow and become
pieces is increasingly important." 52
However, the reduction of chickens and other animals to model
systems of disease and food production traits is not new. In science, for
example, researchers have nursed highly inbred flocks of chickens over
many decades. Bizarre pathological symptoms and conditions that
necessarily arise over time in these inbred flocks are then specifically
"selected for" by the researchers, who will then claim to have created a
"model" that resembles some disease pattern or other such as multiple
sclerosis in humans or heart attack syndromes in commercially-bred
chickens.53 In agriculture, as is summarized in a book entitled Domestic
Animal Production, the fitness of an animal has historically been
determined by whether the animal pleased its owner enough to be allowed
to survive to maturity and reproduce. 54
Genetic engineering carries these attitudes and practices
technically further, but does not break moral continuity with a past in
which nonhuman animals have repeatedly been denied possession of a soul,
reason, or some other vaunted human quality, and used without apology.
Nor, in terms of cruelty and rationalization, does genetic engineering
break continuity with a past in which nonhuman animals have had the
misfortune to be included in a "sacred" circle and accordingly
scapegoated and otherwise sacrificed for humans begging their
Today, the environmental movement--to give an example--has carried
forth this division by conferring a relatively high and
"respectful" status on so-called wild animals, who may then be hunted and
otherwise "honored," within a spiritualized ecological framework. In
contrast, so-called domesticated animals, most especially the
agriculturally-domesticated species, have been castigated for the crime
of allowing themselves to be domesticated, whereby they placed themselves
outside the circle of moral consideration. Farm animals have, in effect,
been blamed for allowing themselves to be turned into "genetic freaks"
and degenerate parodies of nature. Factory-farm animals have been further
denounced for messing up the natural environment with their mounds of
dead bodies and manure, unsightliness, and pollution. 55 Environmentalists
and animal rights advocates agree that large-scale, intensive animal
agriculture is ecologically inefficient and unseemly, and ethically
obscene. The United States poultry industry pollutes fields and streams
with 14 billion pounds of manure and 28 billion gallons of waste water
each year. 56 A one million hen complex produces 125 tons of wet manure a
day. 57 This is detestable, but it is not the chickens' fault. It is ours.
Farm animals have been morally abandoned by our culture and treated
with greater contempt and neglect than all other classes of animals, even
by their so-called "defenders." They have been generally dismissed as
beyond the pale of equal, or even any, moral concern, although, morally,
we owe not less, but more, to those beings whose birthrights and
earthrights we have so thoroughly stripped away. Poultry constitute the
enormous bulk of this lumpen mass of farm animals. They are the 95
percent of the 95 percent of our victims, who have now joined, and been
joined by, the genetically-engineered animals. 58
In Algeny, Jeremy Rifkin wrote that in a genetically-engineered
world, "if only one living creature were left unscathed . . . we would
reach out to it, embrace it, touch it, marvel at it, with a peak of
emotion that all the replicas
together could not possibly hope to tap in us. For we experience
something special with that creature that can never be experienced with
the products of our own technological handiwork." 59
Although touching in a way, this line of thought is unfortunate
because it suggests that the animals violated by genetic engineers are
not only mere manufactures of ours but inferior aliens and sullied
virgins. It implies that the suffering of a genetically-engineered hen,
for example, is somehow less real, intimate, moving, and important, more
"inanimate" and beyond our empathy and moral accountability, than the
sufferings we impose on a "normal" hen. It invites us to glide evilly
into the mentality of the genetic engineer who told a symposium regarding
the birds who hatch in his laboratory with no sign of the desired change:
"We simply throw them away." 60
I believe that chickens and other domestic fowl do not have a future
worth living in their encounter with the human species and that genetic
engineering furthers a drive in our species to eliminate not only
diversity and autonomy, but joy and happiness in other creatures. 61 I
think it is essentially true, as someone wrote, that "If there's anything
to reincarnation and a recycling of souls, with the decreasing
biodiversity on this planet and daily loss of endangered species, the
only place one will be able to go if they get recycled into another
lifetime is into another human or a farm animal." 62 This, in part,
expresses the futuristic fate of domestic fowl, a fate that is much worse
References and Notes
- Andrew Johnson, Factory Farming (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell,
- Malcolm Gladwell, "Biotech Food Products Won't Require Special
Rules, FDA Decides," The Washington Post May 26, 1992: A4.
- Robin Mather, "Fowl Play," The Detroit News July 6, 1993: 1D-2D.
- Jeremy Rifkin, Algeny (New York: The Viking Press, 1983), 18.
- R.L. Witter, "Biotechnology: where are we and what lies ahead?"
Poultry Digest Feb. 1993: 34-39. See p. 34.
- See, e.g., Consortium Executive Committee, Guide for the Care and
Use of Agricultural Animals in Agricultural Research and Teaching, 1st
ed. (Washington, D.C.: National Association of State Universities and
Land-Grant Colleges, March 1988), 5, 7. See also Gary L. Francione,
Animals, Property, and the Law (Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
1995), 26-27, 31-32. For a concise overview of this problem in regard to
farm animals, see David J. Wolfson, Beyond the Law: Agribusiness and the
Systemic Abuse of Animals Raised for Food or Food Production (New York:
Archimedian Press, 1996). For a free copy, contact Animal Rights
International, P.O. Box 214, Planetarium Station, New York, NY 10024.
- In the United States, commercial laying hens, including so-called
"free-range" hens, are starved--force molted--for a average of 10 days
straight, "until their combs turn blue" or they die (see e.g., Journal of
Applied Poultry Research 2 : 107). The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
publishes monthly forced molting statistics in Chickens and Eggs
(Washington, D.C.: National Agricultural Statistics Service). At any
given time, at least 7 million egg-type hens are being legally starved--
molted--in this country. In 1987, Britain passed a law against depriving
hens of food and water for more than 24 hours, though I know of no data
concerning the law's effect on the practice of forced molting in Britain.
- See "In the Onion Sack, On the Auction Block: Poultry at
Auctions," PoultryPress 3.3 (Summer 1993): 4-5. PoultryPress is the
quarterly Newsletter of United Poultry Concerns, P.O. Box 59367, Potomac,
- Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern
Sensibility (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), 94-95.
- Richard D. Ryder, Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards
Speciesism (Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 67.
- Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, ed. Lewis M.
Knapp (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), 121.
- Mark Mathew Braunstein, Radical Vegetarianism, Revised ed.
(Quaker Hill, CT: Panacea Press, 1993), 93-94.
- "Gordon Johnson Remembers," Broiler Industry July 1976: 119.
- W.O. Wilson, "Housing," American Poultry History 1823-1973, ed.
John Skinner (Madison, WI: American Printing & Publishing, 1974), 234.
- Roland M. Leach Jr., "Poultry industry should reconsider if
bigger is better," Feedstuffs Aug. 26, 1996: 10.
- Robert H. Brown, "Biotechnology to lead to poultry
developments," Feedstuffs May 13, 1991: 35.
- Hans H. Cheng, "The chicken genetic map: a tool for the future,"
Poultry Digest June 1994: 24-28. See p. 24.
- Cheng, 24.
- Witter, 34. See note 5 above.
- "The Chicken Industry: New Products Promise Change," Genetic
Technology News 8.8 (Aug. 1988): 8, 11. See p. 8.
- Ibid., 11.
- Mather, 1D.
- Roy Gyles, "Technological Options for Improving the Nutritional
Value of Poultry Products," Designing Foods: Animal Product Options in
the Marketplace (Washington, D.C.: 1988), 299.
- Mather, 2D.
- Sharon Heins Miller, "Increased Marek's Condemnations . . . New
Strains or Old Problems?" Broiler Industry May 1996: 26-31. See p. 30.
- Cheng, 27.
- Mather, 2D.
- "Foodborne illness costs $5.6 to $9.4 billion annually," Egg
Industry Aug. 1996: n.p.; Ian Elliott, "Drug-resistant salmonella worries
British," Feedstuffs May 20, 1996: 5.
- "The Chicken Industry," 8, 11 (see note 20 above); Helen Sang,
"Transgenic chickens - methods and potential applications," TibTech 12
(1994): 415-420. See p. 415.
- "The Chicken Industry," 8; Kathleen Hart, "Making Mythical
Monsters," The Progressive March 1990: 22.
- S.E. Reedy et al., "Beyond Freezing Semen," Proceedings: First
International Symposium on the Artificial Insemination of Poultry, ed.
M.R. Bakst and G.J. Wishart (Savoy, IL: The Poultry Science Association,
1995), 251-261. See p. 251.
- Reedy, 257.
- "Test-tube chicks pave way for 'super-animals,'" New Scientist
Feb. 4, 1988: 36.
- Jamie Love et al., "Transgenic Birds by DNA Microinjection,"
Bio/Technology Jan. 12, 1994: 60-63. See p. 60. See also P. Thoraval et
al., "Germline transmission of exogenous genes in chickens using helper-
free ecotropic avian leukosis virus-based vectors," Transgenic Research 4
(1995): 369-376. See p. 369.
- "Test-tube chicks." See note 33 above.
- R.F. Cook et al., "Liver-Specific Expression of a
Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxykinase-neo Gene in Genetically
Modified Chickens," Poultry Science 72 (1993): 554-567. See pp. 554-555.
- Love, 62. See note 34 above.
- Ibid., 60. The number of this rooster's surviving offspring and
of those who survived to sexual maturity are not mentioned in the report.
- Thoraval, 374. See note 34 above.
- Ibid., 375.
- Reedy, 258-259. See note 31 above.
- Ibid., 258.
- R.J. Etches, "Chimeric Chickens and Their Use in Manipulation of
the Chicken Genome," Poultry Science 72 (1993): 882-889.
- "The Chicken Industry," 11. See note 20 above.
- Witter, 38. See note 5 above.
- Reedy, 258.
- Witter, 38.
- Andrew Kimbrell, "Facing the Future: Genetic Engineering," The
Animals' Agenda 15.1 (1995): 24-28.
- William A. Dudley-Cash, "Latest research findings reported at
annual poultry science meeting," Feedstuffs Sept. 7, 1992: 11.
- Karen Davis, "The Use of Poultry in Biomedical Research," The AV
Magazine (The Journal of The American Anti-Vivisection Society) Nov.
- James V. Craig, Domestic Animal Behavior: Causes and
Implications for Animal Care and Management (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall, 1981), 27.
- See, e.g., J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular
Affair," Environmental Ethics 2: 311-338. I discuss
these issues in detail in "Thinking Like a Chicken: Farm Animals and the
Feminine Connection," Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical
Explorations, ed. Carol J. Adams and Josephine Donovan (Durham, NC;
London: Duke University Press, 1995), 192-212.
- Denise Giardina and Eric Bates, "Fowling the Nest," Southern
Exposure 19.2: 8-12. See p. 8.
- Donald D. Bell, "An egg industry perspective: Ready for the 21st
century?" Poultry Digest Jan. 1999: 26. I confirmed this information in a
phone call to Bell, April 16, 1996.
- See, e.g.,Henry Spira, "How Are We Doing?" The Animals' Agenda
Sept./ Oct. 1996: 35. "With regard to the 95% of animal suffering [the
suffering of farm animals], things are actually getting worse." Reported
U.S. slaughter figures for 1995: 35.7 million cattle; 1.43 million
calves; 96.3 million pigs; 4.56 million sheep and lambs; 7,371,429 young
broiler-fryer-roaster chickens; 159,418 mature chickens (breeders and
layers); 19,528 ducks; and 281,032 turkeys. Livestock Slaughter: 1995
Summary Washington, D.C.: National Agricultural Statistics Service, U.S.
Dept. of Agriculture, March 1996: 1; and Poultry Slaughter, Washington,
D.C.: NASS, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, April 4, 1996: 15-16. As many
chickens are slaughtered per day as cattle are slaughtered in a year in
- Rifkin, 252-253. See note 4 above.
- Robert Etches (Dept. of Animal and Poultry Science, University
of Guelph, Ontario) said this during his talk on June 19, on "Beyond
Freezing Semen" at the First International Symposium on the Artificial
Insemination of Poultry at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD,
June 17-19, 1994. In his article he says, "Any chick that hatched from an
injected recipient but showed no evidence of somatic chimerism would be
eliminated" from the program (259). See note 31 above.
- The term "domesticated fowl" is problematic, as chickens and
other birds so designated can become feral again, given a chance. Their
"domestication" is more superficial than fundamental. See, e.g., Michael
W. Fox, "Animal Freedom and Well-Being: Want or Need," Applied Animal
Ethology 11 (1983/1984): 205-209; and Lesley J. Rogers, The Development
of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken (Wallingford, Oxon UK; Tucson, AZ
USA: CAB INTERNATIONAL, 1995), 213-221. In the U.S.and U.K., investors
are lobbying the government to reclassify exotic wild birds such as
ostriches and emus as "livestock" for agricultural use. Wild and feral
birds are not safe from human clutches, as described in George F. Gee,
"Artificial Insemination and Cryopreservation of Semen from Nondomestic
Birds," Proceedings: First International Symposium on the Artificial
Insemination of Poultry, 262-279. See note 31 above.
- Jack Rudloe, letter to the author, April 28, 1996.