“Something to Crow About,” Smithsonian Magazine, July 2012
Comments about our cover story, “How the Chicken Conquered the World,” reigned over our mailbox. Among the detractors was Karen Davis of Machipongo, Virginia, who is involved in rescuing
chickens: “Given that poultry is a common cause of food-borne illness in consumer households, reflecting the conditions of industrial
poultry production, and given that no one needs to eat the flesh of chickens or any animal in order to be healthy, the triumphalist tone of this
article is unsettling.” But Christina Cassidy of Gainesville, Florida, said the article was worth sharing: “I told my 12 hens
about it. They were very proud.” Timothy Archibald’s photographs accompanying the story struck Jennifer Skelton of Sparks,
Nevada, as in poor taste. “I will never be able to eat chicken again without thinking of those poor headless, featherless birds in people
clothing,” she wrote. On Facebook, some said the pictures were “very bizarre” and “disturbing”; to those readers
Rebecca Wilson said, “I was entertained by the article. Lighten up, people!”
June 1, 2012
Here is UPC President Karen Davis’s Letter to the Editor of the Smithsonian Magazine. We thank California activist George Shea for
alerting us to the article.
I have been rescuing and rehabilitating chickens victimized by the business and consumerism praised in this article since 1985. I live on the
Delmarva Peninsula on the Eastern Shore, one of the largest chicken-producing areas in the country, where at any given time, half a billion
chickens sit on manure-soaked floors in densely polluted buildings, without sunshine or fresh air. Knowing chickens as well as I do, and being
deeply informed about the poultry industry, about which I have written a book and many scholarly articles, I am appalled by the attitude displayed
in this article, including the crude effrontery of dressing the dead bodies of chickens in human attire and ridiculing them as “world
The authors say that a gene linked to obesity is a “positive trait in a creature destined for the dinner table.” However, poultry
scientists have warned since the 1970s that chickens bred for meat production “now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed
well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses” (David Martin,
“Researcher studying growth-induced disease in broilers,” Feedstuffs May 26, 1997, p. 6). Animal scientist Dr. John Webster
writes in his book A Cool Eye Towards Eden (p. 156) that genetic selection of broiler chickens for “gross hypertrophy of
the breast muscle” has produced “a long and depressing list of pathological conditions of bones.” Summarizing the situation, Dr.
Ian Duncan, Professor Emeritus of Poultry Science at the University of Guelph, states in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
(4.3: 207-221): “These birds are all extremely unfit.”
Given that poultry is the most common cause of foodborne illness in consumer households (Michael Greger, Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, 2006, p. 47), reflecting the conditions of industrial poultry production, and given that no one needs to eat the flesh of
chickens or any animals in order to be healthy, the triumphalist tone of this article is unsettling and out of place.
Thank you for your attention.
Karen Davis, PhD, President
United Poultry Concerns
12325 Seaside Road, PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405
United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. Website address: www.UPC-online.org.
Karen Davis, PhD, is the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns and the author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry (Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co., 1996; 2009). For
more information, see www.upc-online.org/karenbio.htm.