Unfortunately, I am not the first vegan to roll my eyes when others refer to chickens as a food group- and even then- as something other than meat. The status of chickens, like so many other unfortunate animals deemed suitable for consumption, is made worse perhaps because chickens are not even viewed as animals but as some kind of "other" category. In fact, according to a 1999 article in U.S. News & World Report, cockfighting was illegal in Oklahoma until 1963, when a judge suddenly ruled that chickens are not animals and therefore unprotected by anti-cruelty laws.
In fact all birds, including chickens, are still unprotected from anti-cruelty laws. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the federal law that governs the humane care, handling, treatment and transportation of some animals in certain situations. Though the AWA gives nominal protection at best to some animals under varying circumstances, all birds are currently excluded from its protection. Chickens and other birds are also excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act that requires that animals be stunned before they are slaughtered. Here are some other heartbreaking facts about the poultry industry:
- Ten billion chickens and over a quarter billion turkeys are killed every year.
- Each chicken is given less than half a square foot of space to move within.
- Soon after birth, chickens have their beaks cut off without anesthesia in attempt to reduce injuries from being crammed into small spaces with other stressed out birds. This is called "debeaking," a painful procedure that involves cutting through bone, cartilage and soft tissue.
- Broiler (meat) chickens are genetically altered to grow rapidly so that they can be slaughtered before 6 weeks of age. As a result of this excess weight, many suffer from crippling leg disorders or die of congestive heart failure and disease because their heart and lungs are not developed enough to support their weight. (Hence the need for antibiotics). Turkeys suffer the same fate, however, they endure the added indignity of being violently artificially inseminated so as to increase production because they cannot mount and reproduce on their own two feet.
- Chickens and turkeys, whether they are "free range" (an industry term) or not, are crammed into small spaces where they are prohibited from seeing the light of day or breathing in natural air other than the toxic, ammonia filled air generated from their own waste within the factory confines. (Again, hence the need for antibiotics.)
- It is widely accepted by the industry that a percentage of birds will either freeze to death or suffocate from the heat during transport as it is cheaper to move chickens in open crates sans protection from the elements.
- At the slaughterhouse, fully or semi-conscious birds are hung by their feet from metal shackles on a moving rail that slits their throats with a mechanical blade. Those who miss the terrors of the blade are thrown into boiling hot water. (This occurs so often that they are known as "redskins.")
- There are about 300 million egg laying hens confined in battery cages or small wire cages just 16 inches wide with four or more chickens per cage. Due to such proximity, the chickens are unable to do normal things like wing-flapping, preening, exercising, exploring or dustbathing, and experience feather loss, bruising and abrasions.
- The males born to these egg producing hens do not grow fast or large enough to be raised profitably for meat and are therefore discarded the day they are born as cheaply as possible- usually tossed into a plastic bag to suffocate or ground up alive.
- Increased egg production is induced through "forced molting" whereby chickens are starved for up to 18 days, denied water and kept in the dark to shock their bodies into another egg-laying cycle. Some 5-10 percent of these birds die during this period and those who survive lose more than 25 percent of their body weight.
- A typical egg laying hen is spent after one year of egg production, having produced more than 250 eggs in her lifetime. Her weak and calcium deprived body is sent off to slaughter for soups, pot pies and similar low-grade chicken products.