Paltry Concern For Poultry Truth

Gary Steel shoots a big lump of caca out of his vent, and aims it at the poultry industry

poor_broiler_chick1I FEEL SORRY for Metro magazine, which for the second time this month, has had to suck eggs publically for having confused “caged chicken” with “barn-raised chicken”.

Michael Brooks from the Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand wrote to the magazine, stating that: “[I] must again point out that… your reviewers have mistakenly repeated one of the urban myths that plagues the poultry meat industry. No meat chicken in this country is raised in a cage – cages are used only in the egg industry. All meat chickens eaten in New Zealand are either barn-raised, or free-range.”

Accepting that its writers had made an error, Metro wrote that it regretted the error.

But as most readers of Doctor Feelgood already know, of course, Michael Brooks is talking about a mere technicality, and one that masks an even greater horror.

nm-broiler-shed-sHe makes it sound like raising “meat chicken” in a barn is some kind of dream-life for the bird, a country idyll, when in fact a the story of a barn-raised broiler is on a par with that of a battery chook.

As author Peter Singer writes in his groundbreaking book Animal Liberation, the life of a broiler in a barn is short, tortuous and brutal. It starts with forced procreation, and the broiler chicks are routinely ‘debeaked’ so that, in the boring ‘lunatic asylum’ conditions of the barn, they don’t cannibalise each other. This ‘debeaking’ is the first indignity… apart from anything else, it’s extremely painful, as their beaks consist of extremely sensitive layers of nerves and tissue.

A zoologist is quoted in the book with: “Between the horn and the bone is a thin layer of highly sensitive soft tissue, resembling the “quick” of the human nail. The hot knife used in debeaking cuts through this complex of horn, bone and sensitive tissue, causing severe pain.” [And permanent nerve-tissue damage].

“The essential step in turning chickens from farmyard birds into manufactured items was confining them indoors,” writes Singer. “A producer of broilers gets a load of 10,000, 50,000 or more day old chicks from the hatcheries, and puts them into a long, windowless shed… Every aspect of the birds’ environment is controlled to make them grow faster on less feed. Food and water are fed automatically from hoppers suspended from the roof. The lighting is adjusted according to advice from agricultural researchers: for instance, there may be bright light twenty-four hours a day for the first week or two, to encourage the chicks to gain weight quickly; then the lights may be dimmed slightly and made to go off and on every two hours, in the belief that the chickens are readier to eat after a period of sleep; finally there comes a point, around six weeks of age, when the birds have grown so much that they are becoming crowded, and the lights will then be made very dim at all times. The point of this dim lighting is to reduce the aggression caused by crowding.

dunnrite02“Broiler chickens are killed when they are seven weeks old (the natural lifespan of a chicken is about seven years). At the end of this brief period, the birds weigh between four and five pounds; yet they still may have as little as half a square foot of space per chicken – or less than the area of a sheet of standard typing paper…”

The birds, which are often lame because they have been bred to be monstrously oversized, are more or less left in the automated shed with absolutely nothing to do except eat. All the farmer has to do is remove dead birds.

“The birds never see daylight, until the day they are taken out to be killed; nor do they breathe fresh air which is not heavy with the ammonia from their own droppings…

“Among ways in which birds can suffocate in a broiler house is a phenomenon known as “piling”. Chickens kept in the broiler sheds become nervous, jittery creatures. Unused to strong light, loud noise, or other intrusions, they may panic at a sudden disturbance and flee to one corner of the shed. In their terrified rush to safety they pile on top of each other so that, as one poultry farmer describes it, they “smother each other in a pitiful heap of bodies in one corner of the rearing area”.

“Even if the birds escape these hazards, they may succumb to any of a number of diseases that are often prevalent in the broiler houses.”

One agriculture expert noted: “Broiler mortality levels have increased and it is reasonable to speculate whether this can be indirectly attributed to the very considerable genetic and nutritional advances that have been made. In other words, we may be expecting broilers to grow too quickly – multiplying their weight 50-60 times in 7 weeks.”

chicken-broiler-02Back to Singer: “The fast growth rate also causes crippling deformities that force producers to kill an additional 1 to 2 percent of broiler chickens – and since only severe cases are culled, the number of birds suffering deformities is bound to be much higher…

“The atmosphere in which the birds must live is itself a health hazard. During the seven or eight weeks the birds are in the sheds, no effort is made to change the litter or remove the birds’ droppings. Despite mechanical ventilation, the air becomes charged with ammonia, dust and microorganisms. Studies have shown that the dust, ammonia and bacteria have damaging effects on the birds’ lungs.

“When the birds must stand and sit on rotting, dirty, ammonia-charged litter, they also suffer from ulcerated feet, breast blisters, and hock burns. “Chicken parts” are often the remaining parts of damaged birds whose bodies cannot be sold whole.

“If living in long, crowded, ammonia-filled, dusty, windowless sheds is stressful, the birds’ first and only experience of sunlight is no less so. The doors will be flung open and the birds, accustomed now to semidarkness, are grabbed by the legs, carried out upside down, and summarily stuffed into crates which are piled on the back of a truck. Then they are driven to the “processing” plant where the chickens are to be killed, cleaned, and turned into neat plastic packages. At the plant they are taken off the truck and stacked, still in crates, to await their turn. That may take several hours, during which time they remain without food and water. Finally they are taken out of the crates and hung upside down on the conveyor belt taking them to the knife that will end their joyless existence.”

Since the publication of this book in the ‘90s, conditions may have changed minutely, but a casual glimpse of the numerous YouTube clips showing the reality of the “barn” life of the broiler confirm that the short life of the “meat chicken” is one of misery, and a life that we refuse to give any dignity whatsoever.

chickenProfessional poultry industry advocate Michael Brooks might be right on a technicality when he states that broilers don’t live in cages, but he refuses to engage in a reality that’s just as much of a nightmare for the millions of sentient creatures that have to endure these “barns” for their miserable, short lives. GARY STEEL

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