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Mike Royko Revises Stance on Use of Contact Lenses for Chickens

Mike Royko Red Lens

"There's nothing like being roasted over a piece on chickens"

Mike Royko, the well-known syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune, revised his stance on the use of contact lenses for chickens. His original column (1/31/96), well-meaning but misinformed, praised this proposed assault on chickens based on his phone call with a poultry researcher claiming to hold a patent on the red plastic lenses he designed for the commercial egg industry (which to date has not adopted them).

In his follow-up column of Feb. 16, Royko expressed his surprise: "I have been bombarded with letters and calls from other chicken experts and researchers who say there is nothing humane about red contact lenses for chickens. Just the opposite, they say. They make the already miserable life of a chicken even more depressing.

"This came from Mary Finelli, senior researcher for the Humane Society of the United States.

'Benign or beneficial as contact lenses for chickens may initially seem, this is far from the truth. Anyone who wears contact lenses can attest to the discomfort which can result from a mere speck of dust getting under one. Today's intensive confinement systems for chickens are notoriously dusty and rank with ammonia and other irritating gasses. To permanently set contact lenses in the eyes of birds who exist for 1 to 2 years under such conditions is grossly inhumane.

'The problem is that the birds are inhumanely housed. Under natural conditions they live peacefully together in small groups. The only true solution to the abnormal aggression which their mistreatment causes is to provide these sensitive animals with humane living conditions.'

"And Karen Davis, Ph.D., president of United Poultry Concerns Inc., wrote:

'In 1991, I undertook to investigate the use of permanent red contact lenses in laying hens upon receiving two written complaints from employees in the poultry unit at a university in California. We removed four lensed hens and had them examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist at the University of California. The hens' eyes had already been traumatized by the non-gas permeable lenses that did not allow the eye to receive oxygen, resulting in corneal ulcers, ruptures, microbial contamination, ocular seepage and blindness.

'The cruel and gruesome research you reported has already cost thousands of hens their sight and more. Adding unremovable lenses to the complicated miseries these hens already endure at our hands, then blaming our victims for their failure to cope, does not solve the problems that we have created for a bird endowed with excellent full-spectrum vision who belongs outdoors ranging in the open sunlight.'

"And others offered even more cruelty-to-chickens information. Some of it is so gruesome, you're better off not knowing. . . . For the average chicken in this country, life is hell. And if these experts are to be believed, red contact lenses will only add to their miseries. . . ."

What Can I Do?

You can thank Mike Royko by writing to him at Tribune Media Services, 435 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago IL 60611-4041. For a copy of UPC's Report on the use of red contact lenses in laying hens, send $5 to UPC, PO Box 59367, Potomac MD 20859.