United Poultry Concerns  

The Experimental Use of Chickens and Other Birds in Biomedical and Agricultural Research

IV. Birds Used in Chemical, Toxicological, Virus Detection, Space Shuttle, and Classroom Tests

 Smoke Inhalation Experiments

“There aren’t always alternatives to using animals in research. The research you asked about, and specifically the use of chickens, is critical in order to help enact and enforce stronger clean indoor-air laws in communities throughout the country. The ultimate outcome is the saving of human lives.”
—Letter from the American Heart Association (Sanner).

For decades, researchers have forced birds and many other animals to breathe in cigarette-filled chambers in attempts to create human-like, smoking-related diseases. A 1994 article on the use of animals in smoking experiments shows a mechanically restrained rooster with cigarette smoke being pumped into his clamped-open beak in an experiment to study the effect of gases found in smoke on the chicken’s windpipe (McArdle 1994).

In a study published in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association in 1994, two researchers at the New York University Medical Center placed 30 young male chickens in an inhalation chamber for six hours a day, five days a week for 16 weeks to see if arterial plaque in the abdomens of the chickens exposed to the sidestream smoke of five cigarettes per day grew faster than it did in control-group chickens. All of the birds were then killed and their abdominal aortas were examined for plaque. Researcher Arthur Penn said the experiment indicated that children exposed to sidestream (secondhand) smoke may be vulnerable to eventual heart disease (Penn and Snyder).

Drug Testing

Turkey poults have been recommended as a more cost-effective model than rodents for investigating therapeutic drug-induced cardiomyopathy in tumor patients (Czarnecki 1986). In other studies, chick models have been used to investigate kidney disorders caused by known and suspected nephrotoxic agents such as uranyl nitrate, a known nephrotoxin (a substance poisonous to kidneys). In one study researchers destroyed 85 percent of the chick’s kidney, administered the toxin, and observed and recorded the damage (Harvey, R.B. et al. 1986).

Researchers cited in The Washington Times in 1992 used gold fish and chickens to test their responses to amphetamines, cocaine, and morphine. According to psychology professors Bow Tong Lett and Virginia Grant at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, their idea was “to study how the pleasure system of fish and birds would be affected by drugs. Such studies have already been done with mammals, particularly rats." Next they said they would try turtles (Birdbrains).

Classroom Experiments

For decades, many high school science courses have included a Biological Sciences Curriculum Studies (BSCS) project on “The Behavior and Development of Chicks” inviting students to “investigate the factors that control an animal’s response to hormones.” In the experiment, groups of chicks are injected every other day in their legs, wings, and thighs with the sex hormone, testosterone propionate, and the ovarian follicle-stimulating hormone, chorionic gonadotropin, while other groups of chicks are injected with sesame oil and saline solution. (BSCS, Black Version, Investigation 28, Behavior and Development of Chicks, pp. 232-236).

One Kansas school district used 140-150 chicks each year in this experiment for 20 years. Surviving chicks were said to be “humanely chloroformed” by the teacher. Though the experiment has no relevance whatsoever to a chick’s actual biological experience, the science coordinator insisted that “observations of the effect of the steroids on development and behavior is cited by students as important learning,” and while insisting that the chicks “don’t suffer,” she praised the experiment for giving students a “hands-on lesson on the terrible effects of steroid and drug abuse.” (United Poultry Concerns succeeded in getting the school district, which requested anonymity, to discontinue this project in 1999.) 

Space Shuttle Experiments

In 1992, The Washington Post reported that, “simulating the action of a mother hen,” astronauts fertilized chickens’ eggs to prepare the eggs for space travel. When the space shuttle Endeavour returned to earth the eggs would be opened and the embryos examined for bone calcium loss and cartilage growth. Researchers said they hoped the experiment would help to explain such problems in humans as space flights get longer.

Gulf War Chemicals Tested on Chickens

“Because it was difficult to know just how much insecticide or anti-nerve gas medicine individuals in the Gulf War were exposed to, we tried a variety of combinations in the chickens.”
—Dr. Mohamed Abou-Donia

In a research project funded by H. Ross Perot, Dr. Mohamed Abou-Donia, a professor of pharmacology and neurobiology and deputy director of Duke University Medical Center’s Toxicology Program, did a study in 1994-1995 designed to “mimic doses” of anti-nerve gas pills and insecticides such as DEET used by soldiers during the Gulf War. Over 100 chickens were exposed to a “variety of [unidentified] doses of single chemicals—either the anti-nerve gas pill or commonly used insecticides, such as DEET (Diethyltoluamide Metadelphene)—and to combinations of the two.” Chickens exposed to combinations of the chemicals “died or displayed nervous system effects such as weakness, difficulty walking, ataxia and paralysis.” Perot said “several government agencies and the Pentagon had been in contact with him about the test results” (Death, Nerve Damage).

Chickens Used as Sentinels to Detect Viruses

For more than a decade chickens have been used by the U.S. and Canadian governments to indicate the presence of mosquitoes carrying infectious encephalitis and West Nile viruses. Stationed in the United States and Canada, the chickens spend their lives in wire cages and are blood-tested once a week to determine whether they have the virus, although some scientists say the captive chickens “are not the best detection system” (Brown 2002).

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