United Poultry Concerns
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23 April 2013
Action for Chickens Urgently Needed: Two Alerts

1) “Art” Student Tortures a Chicken to Death in School Cafeteria

“He just decided to slowly slit its throat while it’s wiggling, wriggling and screaming.” – Student witness quoted by CBC News, April 18, 2013

As reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC News), an unidentified male student slaughtered a chicken in the cafeteria of Alberta College of Art and Design, in Calgary, Thursday April 18 as “a performance piece” for a sculpture project called Fact or Fiction.


What Can I Do?

Please click on this Action Alert posted by Canadians for Ethical Treatment of Food Animals and write to the officials whose full contact information and what to say are included in the Alert: http://cetfa.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/chicken-killed-at-calgary-art-school.

(UPC is writing letters today.)

2) American Meat Producer Says Chickens Don’t Feel Pain

“One of the most disturbing points in the movie is when Joel Salatin claims that chickens do not feel pain. Yet later in the film a young family . . . is slaughtering chickens and they are obviously in pain and distress.” – Harold Brown, www.farmkind.org

“American Meat” is a film celebrating “humane meat” producers which debuted in New York City this month. UPC wrote to the filmmaker, and we invite you to join us in writing to Mr. Meriwether in your own words about chicken sentience and the ethical obligation not to promote lies about the capacity for pain and suffering in chickens and other sentient creatures. Information about chicken sentience follows this letter.

United Poultry Concerns’ Letter to “American Meat” Filmmaker Graham Meriwether:

April 14, 2012
Graham Meriwether

Dear Mr. Meriwether:

I am writing to you on behalf of United Poultry Concerns regarding the rhetorical portrayal in your film, “American Meat,” of chickens as insentient. Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm remarks that chickens do not feel pain. No informed, responsible person makes this claim. It does not require science to prove that chickens are endowed with pain receptors (which science, of course, has proven); merely stepping on chickens’ toes establishes their sentience.

Your film presents the behavioral evidence of pain in chickens being slaughtered. Not surprisingly, since the entire neck and throat area of chickens is loaded with pain receptors that extend pain into their faces and other body parts.

Unforgettably, I watched Joel Salatin at our exhibit table at the Washington, DC Green Festival three years ago, watching our video of chickens being slaughtered at a live poultry market in the Bronx. He smiled (or is the right word “smirked”) through the entire 10-minute clip as the chickens screamed, kicked and writhed in pain.

Since you may be a person who thinks that people who care about chickens are dismissible sentimentalists (please be advised that I have been keeping chickens since 1985), below is a brief summary of the avian science on bird/chicken sentience. This material is not “opinion.” These are the facts. If you are a responsible filmmaker, you will correct the heartless, inhumane and inaccurate information about chickens in “American Meat.”

I would like to hear from you*. Thank you for your attention.

Karen Davis, PhD, President

United Poultry Concerns

*Meriwether replied: “Our role as journalists, in this particular project, is to allow farmers to share their stories. It's up to the audience to determine whether or not they agree with every individual aspect of what is said in the documentary.”

Chicken Sensitivity

“Integumentary (Outer Surface) Sensitivity,” Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production, 5th edition, p. 80: “The integument of the chicken (skin and accessory structures, e.g., the beak) contain many sensory receptors of several types allowing perception of touch (both moving stimuli and pressure stimuli), cold, heat, and noxious (painful or unpleasant) stimulation. The beak has concentrations of touch receptors forming specialized beak tip organs which give the bird sensitivity for manipulation and assessment of objects.”

Poultry Sentience and Intelligence

From an Interview with Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor of Poultry Ethology
University of Guelph
Ontario, Canada

Q: Can chickens and turkeys feel pain?

A: Absolutely. It is indisputable that poultry are capable of feeling pain. All poultry species are sentient vertebrates and all the available evidence shows that they have a very similar range of feelings as mammalian species. Poultry can suffer by feeling pain, fear and stress.

Q: Chickens and turkeys are widely regarded to be of inferior intelligence, so-called "dumb animals." Is this an accurate assessment of their intelligence?

A: Not at all. These animals are poorly understood. Turkeys, for example, do not always do what a turkey grower wants them to, and therefore they're classified as dumb animals, whereas in fact turkeys possess marked intelligence. This is revealed by such behavioral indices as their complex social relationships, and their many different methods of communicating with each other, both visual and vocal. Chickens, as well, are far more intelligent than generally regarded, and possess underestimated cognitive complexity. From The State of Poultry Welfare in Canada, 1996. An interview with Dr. Ian Duncan.

Pain and Suffering in Birds

Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns

Chickens and turkeys - birds - experience pain, panic, fear and distress the same as other animals including humans. Pain receptors, thermo-receptors, and physical-impact receptors responsive to noxious (tissue damaging) stimuli have been identified in birds and characterized in chickens. Like mammals subjected to painful stimuli, chickens show a rapid increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and behavioral changes consistent with those found in mammals indicating pain perception - efforts to escape, distress cries, guarding of wounded body parts, and the passive immobility that develops in birds and other animals subjected to traumatic events that are aversive and that continue regardless of attempts by the victim to reduce or eliminate them (Gentle 1992).

Michael Gentle states in “Pain in Birds” that comparing the physiological responses of the nociceptors (pain receptors) found in chickens with those found in mammals, including humans, “it is clear that in terms of discharge patterns and receptive field size, they are very similar to those found in a variety of mammalian species.” Birds, like mammals, he explains, have “a well-developed sensory system to monitor very precisely external noxious or potentially noxious stimuli.” He concludes that the “close similarity between birds and mammals in their physiological and behavioral responses to painful stimuli would argue for a comparable sensory and emotional experience” (Gentle 1992, 237-238, 243).

Birds are Intelligent Beings

In addition to comparable sensory and emotional experiences, birds have cognitive abilities “equivalent to those of mammals, even primates” (Rogers 1995, 217). This conclusion is shared by the Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium, an international group of scientists. In a paper published in Nature Neuroscience Reviews in 2005, the Consortium presented the overwhelming evidence showing that a bird’s brain is a highly complex organ of which fully 75 percent “is an intricately wired mass that processes information in much the same way as the vaunted human cerebral cortex.” In light of this evidence, the Consortium is calling upon scientists around the world to adopt a new language to describe the various parts of the bird’s brain in recognition of what is now known about avian intelligence upsetting the “old system [that] stunted scientists’ imaginations when it came to appreciating birds’ brain power” (Weiss 2005). As for chickens in particular, scientists observe that “chickens evolved an impressive level of intelligence to help improve their survival” (Viegas).

The question is what will we do with this knowledge?


  • [The] Avian Brain Nomenclature Consortium. 2005. Avian Brains and a New Understanding of Vertebrate Brain Evolution.Nature Neuroscience Reviews 6 (February): 151-167. www.Avianbrain.org.
  • Gentle, Michael J. 1992. Pain in Birds. Animal Welfare 1: 235-247. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare.
  • Rogers, Lesley J. 1995. The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the Chicken. Oxon, UK: CAB International.
  • Viegas, Jennifer. 2005. Study: Chickens Think About Future. Discovery News July 14.
  • Weiss, Rick. 2005. Bird Brains Get Some New Names, And New Respect. The Washington Post 1 February, A10. www.upc-online.org/alerts/20105post.htm.

From Karen Davis, PhD, Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Company, 2009. pp. 158-159.

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