Book Recommendation:
Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs

Review By Mark Hawthorne

Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs

It seems more people than ever are talking about chickens. Much of the credit for this goes to Karen Davis, who founded United Poultry Concerns in 1990. Few people have done as much as Karen to raise awareness about the plight of birds people want to eat. She is one of those tireless activists many of us wish we could be like: a consistent, well-informed, dedicated voice who never seems to miss an opportunity to speak up for animals. Take International Respect for Chickens Day, for example. Karen launched this annual event five years ago to celebrate chickens throughout the world and protest the bleakness of their lives in farming operations.

A considerable amount of her activist time is engaged in writing, and Karen's latest effort is a complete revision of her book Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs (Book Publishing Co.), first published 13 years ago. This is without a doubt one of the most important books an animal advocate can read. Not only is it critical for activists to be up to date on issues involving animal cruelty, but chickens are by far the most abused beings in animal agribusiness -- indeed, Karen describes them as "creatures of the earth who no longer live on the land" -- making it even more essential that we're able to speak from a place of knowledge in order to defend them.

The statistics are staggering, as Karen observes in the book's preface: "While much has happened since Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs first appeared in 1996, little has changed for the chickens themselves, except that their lives have become, as a global phenomenon, even more miserable. Instead of 7.5 billion chickens being slaughtered in the mid-1990s in the United States, nearly 10 billion chickens are now being slaughtered, with parallel rises in other countries reflecting the expansion of chicken consumption and industrialized production into Latin America, China, India, Africa, Russia, Mexico, and elsewhere. Throughout the world, over 40 billion chickens are now being slaughtered for meat each year, and over 5 billion hens are in battery cages, many of them in egg-production complexes holding up to a million or more birds."

Karen explains how poultry farming grew from a relatively small endeavor (in 1930, the average US farm had only 23 chickens) into a global, mass-production enterprise that has invented such miseries as "debeaking" chickens without pain relief; cramming hens into battery cages; forced molting, a host of infectious diseases, and much more.

This is a well-documented indictment of the poultry industry and its public relations tactics. Karen notes, for example, how "The egg industry thinks nothing of claiming that a mutilated hen in a cage is 'happy,' 'content,' and 'singing,’ yet will turn around and try to intimidate you with accusations of 'anthropomorphism' if you logically insist that the hen is miserable."

One of the characteristics of Karen's books I've always appreciated is her considerable talent as a writer. It can be challenging to transform a vast amount of research and information into a readable narrative, and Karen does it with such style that her books never read like dull, academic texts. This book is obviously a labor of love.

Chickens have been labeled cowardly and "bird-brained," but Karen debunks these myths with examples of their courage and intelligence. For instance, she writes that "Far from being 'chicken,' roosters and hens are legendary for bravery.... Our tiny Bantam rooster, Bantu, would flash out of the bushes and repeatedly attack our legs, his body tense, his eyes riveted on our shins, lest we should threaten his beloved hens."

Though Karen encourages readers to visit factory farms, few of us ever will. Fortunately, she is able to guide us through these places, explaining what goes on inside. This knowledge not only solidifies our commitment to protecting animals; it aids our ability to effectively communicate, making our activism much more powerful.

With the world alert to the threat of a pandemic flu virus, concerns about food safety, global warming, genetic engineering, and the growing fad for "healthier" meat, there's never been a better time to purchase a copy of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs.

Mark Hawthorne is the author of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, published by O Books.