Friday, September 16, 2011

The Unnatural Life of Broiler Chickens

Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the celebrated book "Everything Is Illuminated", considered changing his omnivorous diet to a plant-based one. First, he wanted to do some research. The results were published in his 2009 book "Eating Animals". Here is what he found on the farming of chickens:
"In its Animal Welfare Guidelines, the National Chicken Council indicates an appropriate stocking density to be eight-tenths of a square foot per bird... Try to picture it (It's unlikely you'll ever get to see the inside of a poultry factory farm in person, but there are plenty of images on the Internet if your imagination needs help.) Find a piece of printer paper and imagine a full-grown bird shaped something like a football with legs standing on it. Imagine 33,000 of these rectangles in a grid. (Broilers -- the chickens bred for their meat -- are never in cages, and never on multiple levels.) Now enclose the grid with windowless walls and put a ceiling on top. Run in automated (drug-laced) feed, water, heating, and ventilation systems. This is a farm.
Now to the farming.
First, find a chicken that will grow big fast on as little feed as possible. The muscles and fat tissues of the newly engineered broiler birds grow significantly faster than their bones, leading to deformities and disease. Somewhere between 1 and 4 percent of the birds will die writhing in convulsions from sudden death syndrome, a condition virtually unknown outside of factory farms... Three out of four will have some degree of walking impairment, and common sense suggests they are in chronic pain.
For your broilers, leave the lights on about twenty-four hours a day for the first week or so of the chicks' lives. This encourages them to eat more. Then turn the lights off a bit, giving them maybe four hours of darkness a day -- just enough for them to survive. Of course chickens will go crazy if forced to live in such grossly unnatural conditions for long -- the lighting and crowding, the burdens of their grotesque bodies. At least broiler birds are typically slaughtered on the forty-second day of their lives (or increasingly on the thirty-ninth), so they haven't yet established social hierarchies to fight over.
Needless to say, jamming deformed, drugged, overstressed birds together in a filthy, waste-coated room is not very healthy. Beyond deformities, eye damage, blindness, bacterial infections of the bones, paralysis, internal bleeding, and respiratory diseases are frequent and long-standing problems on factory farms. Scientific studies and government records suggest that virtually all (upwards of 95 percent of) chickens become infected with E. coli (an indicator of fecal contamination) and between 39 and 75 percent of chickens in retail stores are still infected... Seventy to 90 percent are infected with another potentially deadly pathogen, campylobacter. Chlorine baths are commonly used to remove slime, odor, and bacteria.
Of course, consumers might notice that their chickens don't taste quite right -- how good could a drug-stuffed, disease-ridden, fecal-contaminated animal possibly taste? -- but the birds will be injected with "broths" and salty solutions to give them what we have come to think of as the chicken look, smell, and taste ( A recent study by Consumer Reports found that chicken and turkey products, many labeled as "natural", 'ballooned with 10 to 30 percent of their weight as broth, flavoring, or water.')"
This is the farming of the chickens we consume. Then, there's the processing...
If you wish to see video footage on the life of broiler chickens, please visit: and search for Compassion in World Farming's "Live Fast Die Young: The Life of a Meat Chicken". This is a short documentary.
For undercover footage of the "processing" of chickens and turkeys (this is quite disturbing but important to know and, sadly, not uncommon): please visit: and scroll down through the Video links on the homepage. This video is titled "Poultry Slaughterhouse Investigation".

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