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Chickens were the first farmed animals to be permanently confined
indoors in large numbers in automated systems based on intensive genetic
selection and on the use of antibiotics to treat the diseases of
production and to promote artificial growth rates. Until World War Two,
chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese were raised in towns and villages
and on farms, and many city people kept them in back lots.
Following the war, the U.S. chicken industry became the model for
poultry production throughout the world. Working through the Peace Corp
and other tax-supported channels, the U.S. government exports intensive
poultry and egg production technology to developing countries. This is
carried out under the guise of a demand for "high-protein meat- and
poultry-based diets" to feed the world's expanding population, which is
projected to double in the next 40 years, tripling food needs
(Feedstuffs, 26 Feb. 1996, 5).
According to the WATT Publishing Company 2000 Executive Guide to World
Poultry Trends, worldwide chicken production accounts for more than 85%
of world poultry production, which totaled 65.6 million tons in 2000.
The total number of broiler (meat-type) chickens and spent hens killed
worldwide in 2000 exceeded 40,000 million, an increase of about 1,300
million birds per year through the 1990s. Industry analysis hopefully
predicts that worldwide poultrymeat production will continue to grow at
about 4% per year and egg production at about 3% per year through 2006.
Since the 1950s, chickens have been genetically divided into two
distinct types: broiler chickens for meat production and laying hens for
egg production. Battery cages for laying hens-consisting of identical
confinement units arranged in rows and tiers-and confinement sheds for
broiler chickens came into standard use during the 1940s and 1950s.
World War Two, urbanization, and a growing human population produced a
demand for cheap, mass-produced poultry and eggs. In 1950, broiler
chicken sales surpassed egg sales for the first time. On 13 April 1995,
The Washington Post reported that the U.S. broiler chicken business had
become a $25 billion industry, compared to a $4.2 billion egg industry.
On 7 January 2002, Feedstuffs reported that U.S poultry production was
worth $21.2 billion in 2000, based on prices of products sold ("Chicken
sales represent 66% of total," 8). According to the report, "The chicken
sector continued to be the dominant part of the poultry industry. . . .
66% of sales were attributable to chicken products, compared to 20.5%
for commercial and hatching eggs and 13.4% for turkey products."
Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama are the major chicken-producing states,
Ohio is the major egg-producing state, and Minnesota and North Carolina
are the major turkey-producing states.
The domestic turkey is derived from imported Bronze and Black turkeys
from Europe who were crossed with the wild turkeys of North America at
the beginning of the 19th century. During the 1930s and the 1940s,
demand for smaller turkeys for smaller families and ovens led the U.S.
Department of Agriculture to develop the Beltsville (Maryland) White
turkey with subsequent strains of large, medium, and small birds.
As the poultry industry expanded in the 1950s, birds genetically
manipulated for breast meat and fast growth of their young had mating
and fertility problems when used for breeding. This led to the adoption
of a semi-starvation diet imposed on broiler chicken parent flocks to
keep their weight down-now recognized as a serious welfare abuse (see
"How to deal with chicken-rage" in The Economist, 29 April 2000, 79),
and to the adoption of artificial insemination, which is now the sole
method of reproducing turkeys for human consumption. In the 1970s, the
turkey stud farm concept was adopted. The toms are isolated from the
hens and manipulated for their semen by "milkers," who inseminate the
hens with a hypodermic syringe, or the milker's breath pressure blown
through a tube. This has led to a pathology in turkeys and chickens
subjected to the process known as "deep pectoral myopathy." As described
in the book The Health of Poultry (ed. Mark Pattison, 1993, 19-20,
229-230), the condition results from the bird's chest muscles being
exerted beyond the body's ability to supply oxygen due to the bird's
"struggling and wing beating associated with catching for artificial
Pain and Disease
These birds suffer from birth to death. The January-February 1995 issue
of Turkey World documents the trauma of a baby turkey: "Very few animals
go through the stresses of turkey poults in their first three hours of
life. They are squeezed, thrown down a slide onto a treadmill, someone
picks them up and pulls the snood off their heads, clips three toes off
each foot, debeaks them, puts them on another conveyer belt that
delivers them to another carousel where they get a power injection,
usually of an antibiotic, that whacks them in the back of their necks.
Essentially they have been through major surgery [without anesthetic-UPC
Ed. Note] They have been traumatized. They don't look very good"
(Donaldson, et al., 27).
Broiler chickens and turkeys are plagued with metabolic disorders and
with painful lameness including degenerative hip joint disease and
arthritis. This is because their internal organs and skeletal systems
cannot cope with the abnormal growth rate and excessive amount of
bodyweight. A study published in The Veterinary Record, 11 March 2000,
begins: "Lameness, or leg weakness as it is called in the poultry
industry, is highly prevalent in broiler chickens." So chronically
painful is this lameness that the young chickens in this study
repeatedly chose food that had painkillers added to it (the analgesic
carprofen), leading the researchers to conclude that "lame broiler
chickens are in pain and that this pain causes them distress from which
they seek relief" ("Self-selection of the analgesic drug carprofen by
lame broiler chickens" by T.C. Danbury, et al.)
Modern poultry-chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, pheasants,
quails, and pigeons -are confined by the hundreds and thousands in
densely packed houses permeated with accumulated droppings, feed
ingredients, and excretory ammonia fumes which damage the birds' immune
systems and respiratory tracts and can cause them to go painfully blind
as a result of ammonia burn. Ducks are denied the water they need to
rinse their eyes in. Stress and disease are inevitable under these
conditions. In 1991, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution noted that every
week, "millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green feces,
contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by lung and heart
infections, cancerous tumors or skin conditions are shipped for sale to
On 30 October 2001, The New York Times noted that food poisoning
"[b]acteria called campylobacter contaminate most chickens that go to
market in the United States," and in 1999, the General Accounting Office
(GAO) noted that "[e]ggs contaminated by the Salmonella Enteritidis
bacteria have been recognized as a public health problem since 1988,"
with over three-quarters of SE outbreaks being linked to eggs between
1985 and 1998, according to the Centers of Disease Control and
Prevention (GAO/RCED-99-184, 1).
According to this GAO report, research conducted at Pennsylvania egg
farms in the 1990s identified heavy rodent populations and forced
molting (by food deprivation lasting from 4 to 21 days-UPC Editor's
note) as factors contributing to high levels of poisonous Salmonella
bacteria, and that '[o]nce infected, chickens can pass the pathogen
directly from their ovaries to the contents of the eggs they lay . . .
before the shell forms" (25). Ovarian infection of hens by the
intestinal bacteria Salmonella Enteritidis is associated with modern
methods of poultry and egg production, according to the CDC in a
Memorandum dated 8 June, 1990, as is the "enteritidis" serotype of
Salmonella, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture characterized in
1990 as "a serious poultry disease and public health concern that shows
no sign of abatement, but instead appears to be increasing" (Federal
Register, 16 February 1990).
Despite persistent health warnings, domestic consumption of poultry and
egg products continues, resulting in more and more areas of the country
and the world being polluted by poultry complexes. For example, the
Oklahoma Water Resources Board did a 3-year study showing that half of
Tulsa's drinking water is polluted with chicken waste, including its use
as pasture fertilizer, resulting in "taste and odor problems that are
either very costly to treat or, in recent years, untreatable." In
December 2001, Tulsa filed a federal lawsuit against several poultry
companies including Tyson Foods, Cobb-Vantress, Peterson Farms, Simmons,
Cargill, and George's, and the city of Decatur, Arkansas (P.J. Lassek,
"Water quality harmed, study affirms," The Tulsa World, 6 March 2002).
U.S. poultry consumption is linked to the global expansion of the
poultry industry through GATT, NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and
related trade agreements that aggressively export domestically produced
poultry products to other countries and global regions including Latvia,
Estonia, the Ukraine, Asia, and the Middle East (WATT Executive Guide
2000, 24). According to The New York Times, 2 March 2002, Russians
reportedly consumed one million tons of chickens, or 1.28 billion legs
from the U.S. in 2001, which is 8% of total U.S. chicken production. In
early 2002, Russia announced a ban on U.S. chickens' thighs citing
antibiotic load, hormones, preservatives, and things "generally
unnatural" that present an "unacceptable threat to Russian health." U.S.
exports to Russia and Asia consist mainly of dark meat. Sale of
chickens' legs and feet to Hong Kong and China is now a $100 million
business (Houston Chronicle [Texas], 2 April 1995, 3E).
Between 1990 and 2000, the number of laying hens in the world increased
from 3.8 billion to 5 billion (WATT Executive Guide 2000, 36). This
number includes hens used for commercial egg production (93% of total
egg production) and hens used to produce hatching eggs (7% of total egg
production) for the broiler chicken and egg industries. The leading
egg-producing country is China followed at a distance by the U.S. In
Europe, total egg consumption per person has dropped, and while U.S. egg
consumption has dropped 40%over the past three decades, consumption of
dried and liquid egg products and anything that the egg industry can
dump its chronic overproduction of eggs into has grown.
Of the 300 million commercial laying hens in the U.S. (up from 2.4
million hens in 1995), 99% of hens are in cages in which eight or nine
hens have a total average living space of 48 to 52 square inches per
hen. In 1995, the International Egg Commission reported at its annual
meeting in Stockholm, Sweden that 75% of the world's laying hens are now
kept in cages. While the number of floor-kept (uncaged) birds is
increasing in some European countries, Egg Industry reported in October
1995 that the total proportion of caged birds "is likely to increase
even further because of installations in the developing countries."
Minimal Welfare Standards
Since then, increased welfare standards for commercial egg producing
hens have been set in the European Union (EU), which in June 1999
announced a Europe-wide ban on battery-hen cages by 2012. Currently, 90%
of the 350 million hens in Europe are kept in cages. More far
reachingly, the German Parliament voted on 19 October 2001 in support of
the 1999 finding by the German Constitutional Court that battery cages
violate German law. The new German law expects to ban battery cages by
31 December 2006-five years earlier than the EU ban by 2012; so-called
enriched cages furnished with perches, nest boxes, and scratching areas
will be banned in Germany by the end of 2011, and no building will be
permitted to house more than 6,000 hens together.
In addition, the McDonald's Corporation announced on 22 August 2000 that
the producers that supply the company with 1.5 billion eggs each year
will have to provide 50% more space for each caged hen, ban the "forced
molting" practice of withholding food and water from hens in order to
manipulate the economics of egg production, and phase out debeaking.
McDonald's' action is important because it is the first time that a
major U.S. food company has admitted that the suffering and welfare of
farmed animals merits attention, while actually providing them some
relief from suffering and encouraging other food companies to follow
Slaughter and Death
The number of birds being slaughtered worldwide is exceeded only by the
number of fish being killed-40,000 million birds were slaughtered in
2000 (see paragraph 3 above). In the U.S., of the 10 billion animals
slaughtered in U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected facilities in
2000, more than 8.7 billion were birds including more than 8.2 billion
broiler chickens, 165 million spent commercial laying hens and breeding
chickens, 268 million turkeys, and 25 million ducks. In addition,
14,307,000 pounds of "other poultry" were slaughtered including
ostriches, emus, geese, pigeons, rabbits (rabbits are classed as poultry
in U.S. food production), and other miscellaneous categories of birds.
In addition to these birds, millions of other birds die each year in the
United States in state-inspected facilities and live poultry markets.
Added to them are the millions of birds who die "prematurely" in the
confinement houses and the half billion male chicks and defective
females destroyed by the U.S. egg industry each year as commercially
Slaughter of "Meat-type" Birds
In the United States, chickens, turkeys, ducks and other "meat-type"
birds are intentionally kept alive through the slaughter process in
order to keep their hearts beating. The birds are manually pulled from
the crates on the flatbed trucks and hung upside down in the live-hang
area of the slaughterhouse. Their heads are dragged through an
electrified water bath trough that is designed not to stun them but to
keep them from violently flapping while hanging from the conveyer belts
and to paralyze the muscles of their feather follicles in order to
facilitate feather release. (see Karen Davis, Prisoned Chickens,
Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry, 1996, for
a detailed discussion of poultry slaughter in chapter 5, "The Death").
After being dragged through the electrified water bath, the birds have
their necks partially cut by a machine blade and/or a manual neck
cutter. They then hang upside down for 90- seconds in a bleedout tunnel
while still alive, with an unspecified number of birds reportedly
asphyxiating in pools of floor blood if the conveyer belt dips too close
to the bleedout floor. They are then dropped into tanks of scalding
water. In Fiscal Year 1993, of 7,085,491,852 total poultry slaughtered
in USDA facilities, 3,121,617 birds officially entered the scald tank
alive (Freedom of Information Act #94-363, Poultry Slaughtered,
Condemned, and Cadavers, 30 June 1994).
The cruelty of poultry slaughter has increased during the past two
decades because younger and heavier birds with extremely fragile
capillaries are now being slaughtered for the fast food and rotisserie
trade, resulting in a greater susceptibility to hemorrhage under an
electric current. (Most chickens-about 35 million a day in the U.S.--
are slaughtered at 6 to 7 weeks old.) Consequently, poultry companies
have reduced the electrical current to "stun" chickens-to paralyze them
without rendering them unconscious--at even lower levels, causing even
greater agony (Poultry Marketing & Technology, August-September 1993,
Gas stunning is not commercially employed in the U.S. In the U.K., a
2001 amendment to the 1995 Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing)
Regulations permits the voluntary use of nitrogen and other inert gases
mixed with low, preferably no, concentrations of carbon dioxide. This is
intended to reduce suffering, including the fact that the birds can be
gassed to death in the trucks and thus be spared the cruelty of live
shackling. According to an article in Broiler Industry, July 1997,
behavioral studies and other electrophysiological studies of the time it
takes to lose brain responsiveness indicated that the first choice of
gas should be a mixture composed of 90% argon, 2% oxygen, and 8%
nitrogen (Mohan Raj, "European Perspective on Poultry Stunning").
Slaughter and Live Burial of "Spent" Hens
Spent laying hens are so osteoporotic from lack of exercise and calcium
depletion for eggshell formation that slaughter plants don't want them.
Approximately 26 million hens are trucked into Canada from the U.S. each
year to be gassed in the trucks on arrival, according to the May 2000
issue of Animal People ("Starving the hens is 'standard"). Other hens
travel long distances to spent fowl plants that are few and far between
in the U.S. Others are gassed in portable drums, then buried in
landfills. According to one industry source estimate, about 8 to 10 hens
per 100,000 are buried alive (Tim Ford, personal communication, 7 March
2002); other suggest a much higher number.
Because spent laying hens have no commercial value, as explained by
Canadian Farm Animal Care Trust president Tom Hughes, "They are not even
worth enough money to go through the normal process of slaughtering and
packing. The simplest method of disposal is to pack the birds, alive,
into containers, and bulldoze them into the ground. . . . Another method
is to pack the birds into a closed truck and connect the exhaust to the
body of the truck" (Animal People, May 2000, 8).
In an article about the Canadian chicken and egg industry in The
Vancouver Courier, 27 July 2001, the operation of a portal gas unit for
spent hens is described as follows: the live birds "are placed in a
funnel-like opening, from which they're pushed onto rollers, where the
birds are electrocuted, then dropped onto a conveyer belt that loads
them-dead-into the back of a truck." However, Dan Weary, a professor in
the agricultural sciences department at the University of British
Columbia, said that about 1% of hens he watched go through this machine
weren't killed by the electrocution and ended up in the truck alive.
According to SPCA spokesman Brian Nelson, many of the hens who survive
the electrocution most likely suffocate under a pile of dead birds
("Cooped up" by Chris Miller).
No Federal "Humane Slaughter of Poultry" Law in the United States or
To date, there are no federal welfare laws governing the raising,
transport, or slaughter of poultry in the United States or Canada.
Exclusion of birds from the United States Humane Methods of Slaughter
Act means that 98% of animals being slaughtered for food in this country
have no legal coverage at all. It is inexcusable that the majority of
nonhuman animals slaughtered for human consumption in the U.S. are
denied this most basic welfare extension and that the U.S. government
and poultry industry have no ethical accountability whatever regarding
their treatment of the billions of birds they kill.
The effort to extend humane slaughter coverage should not be regarded as
a sanction for slaughter or a salve for conscience. Rather, the absence
of a law conveys the false notion to the general public, and to those
who work directly with poultry, that these birds do not suffer, or that
their suffering does not matter, and that humans have no moral
obligation to them even to the nominal extent granted to cattle, sheep,
The Need for Vegetarianism: A Nutritional Diet Free of Animal Products
Veganism is a growing response to the cruelty, waste, pollution,
diseases, and backwardness of an animal-based diet, including the fact
that concern for human wellbeing entails a commitment to foods that free
people from having to work in slaughterhouses. And while veganism will
not come overnight, it can be said with assurance that "humane
treatment" and "humane slaughter" of birds and other animals raised for
food will never come at all. As chicken specialist Dr. Lesley Rogers
points out in her book The Development of Brain and Behaviour in the
Chicken (1995), "humane improvements are attempts by an industry
designed for profit to make some concession to the welfare of animals,"
not to provide animals with the life they really need (218).
We have the technology to duplicate animal products and to create new
vegan foods, as well as having an existing wealth of traditional vegan
foods. This should be the diet and food technology of the new
millennium. The worst thing, as Canadian activist Harriet Schleifer says
in In Defense of Animals (ed. Peter Singer, Basil Blackwell, 1985), is
to lull the public "to feel that the use of animals for food is in some
way acceptable, since even the animal welfare people say so" (70).
Rather, the role of the advocate is to speed the day when regarding a
fellow creature as food is no longer an option.
Karen Davis, PhD, is the President of United Poultry Concerns, a
nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful
treatment of domestic fowl. She is the author of Prisoned Chickens,
Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry (Book
Publishing Company, 1996), Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A
Poultryless "Poultry" Potpourri (Book Publishing Company, 1999), and
More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality
(Lantern Books, 2001). To order these books and more, please visit our
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.|
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
(The Plight of Birds in the Poultry and Egg Industry)