We have all seen video from inside the terrifying, “industry standard” chicken housing facilities, where hens are caged with 6-8 adult birds on floor space equivalent to a standard piece of typing paper. This, however, is some of the first video I’ve seen from a “free range” facility, and I thought I would share. This is still an astonishing number of chickens, but they all appear to have all their feathers, nobody is fighting and they can move, jump, extend their wings, and hunt bugs (if there’s a single bug left in those pastures after 50,000 chickens run through them).
(Recall that the USDA definition of “free range” only actually requires that chickens “have access to the outside”, so not all “free range” chickens live like this — for comparison, here is a video from a “free range” egg farm in Canada, which neither mentions nor shows the birds going outside.)
Burger King has a new promotion going: a live chicken, named “Gloria”, will travel to “select” Burger King locations across the U.S. and, by pecking at one of two food bowls marked “yes” or “no”, will determine whether or not that location will serve “chicken fries“, which are strips of chicken made up to look like french fries.
Since Gloria is a chicken, she has no grasp of the metaphysics of what she is doing: “deciding” whether or not, say, 500 of her fellow chickens will be turned into “fries” rather than chicken sandwiches on that day, based on her (possibly) random actions. All she knows is that she pecks the bowls, and gets food. I am not a chicken, and I find the image of a chicken deciding the fates of its fellows obscene. It’s a little like the happy painted pigs you see on the signs at barbeque restaurants, merrily encouraging guests to eat them and their friends. (What would Burger King do if Gloria pecked “no” at every stop? Held up a little sign that said “GO VEG”?)
I am also interested in that, as a being with a name, Gloria is Not Food, and is afforded the status due a named chicken: an “expert handler”, a “plush coop” and a “custom decision-making stage” from which to issue her decrees. Note also that Gloria is very unlike the chicken hoi polloi which are used in the fries: according to her web site, she is a “three-year-old Rhode Island Red chicken”. She has already lived nearly twenty times longer than the five-to-nine-week-old hybrid, white-feathered “broiler” chickens Burger King (likely) uses in their nuggets and sandwiches. She is from “Starlight Ranch, in Lake Elsinore, CA”, a facility so small even Google can’t find it. Why not choose a representative factory farm chicken from one of the big broiler producers? (Oh, yeah, they’re crippled, have no feathers, and die early of respiratory diseases. Not a good mascot.)
What message are we supposed to take from this? “Watch as the random actions of a factory farm chicken’s privileged cousin determine what shape your meat will be”? I have been led to understand that Burger King is at the forefront of what we must, alas, call the fast food revolution toward eventually, someday, provided it is financially feasible, possibly being slightly nicer to the animals we eat. I am not certain this advertising campaign fully supports that theory. (On the other hand, I certainly noticed it, so, in that regard, it worked perfectly.)
(From the primordial television series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
Yes, it’s a joke — at this point. The nonexistent virtual reality “Second Livestock“, designed by ISU assistant professor Austin Stewart, brings up the idea of providing a virtual natural environment for conventionally farmed animals. Rather than devote money, time, and space to actually giving the animals what they deserve, we can give them a virtual image of what they deserve. They’ll believe they are running around and interacting with conspecifics, while in reality we can make their enclosures even smaller, since they won’t know they’re using them….
Knowing that it’s not real(yet), it’s actually funny, especially the little chicken headsets. But take a moment, and imagine what might happen if this became economically feasible, especially compared to actually providing a natural environment for farm animals. (While that’s honestly unlikely, Stewart has said further development for actual implementation was an option he would consider.) Picture dairy cows grazing on a virtual pasture, giving birth to virtual “calves” that could hang around for a bit before being “naturally weaned”, while in reality the calves are taken away at birth (and fitted with a headset and given a virtual “mother”).
Would it be ethical? If the animal truly believed it had a wonderful — or at least a quasi-natural) life, is there a functional difference from it actually having a wonderful life? Is this a viable replacement for real space, conspecifics, and interaction? What if every animal had an amazing virtual life, filled with its species’ own version of wine, women, and song? (Either way, I’m not sure that either option is adequate “payment” for being consumed as food in the end.) The authors make a point (arguably, the whole point of the site) that some humans are already partially living in an environment like this one…is that a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing?
No answers here, although my gut instinct tends to the “Are you kidding?” side of things. I just thought this was funny-becoming-interesting and kind of chewy food for thought.
An egg farm near Roggen, Colorado, owned by Boulder Valley Poultry, burned to the ground on April 30. The extremely brief article (which matches other, extremely brief articles in other papers) declares the event an accident, and winds up by reassuring consumers that their supply of eggs is unlikely to be affected.
Oh, yeah, and 470,000 hens died. In two barns.
What an interesting, unremarked, casual aside. These aren’t unbelievably huge buildings. 235,000 chickens in each one? To give each chicken one square foot of floor space in an open-floor plan (an extremely minimal investment), the barns would need to be 100 ft x 2,350 ft (almost half a mile long). How densely were these chickens packed?
Also, “many local producers have agreed to step up production”. How do you do that, I wonder?
Back when I was in high school, the state in which I was living at the time was having difficulty getting a sufficiently large percentage of students to pass their standardized tests. Their solution to this problem, of course, was to dumb down the tests, to make it easier for badly educated children to pass them. It solved the problem (kids aren’t passing the exams) without really solving the problem (the kids are not well educated enough to pass the exams).
The USDA seems to be adopting a similar strategy in their poultry inspection program. For reasons which have absolutely nothing whatever to do with consumer safety (they claim they are “modernizing an outdated system” but mostly, the move will allow them to eliminate about 800 jobs, and will allow the plants to chew through 70% more birds by speeding the disassembly lines up even more), the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants to allow individual poultry plants to provide their own inspectors rather than use inspectors supplied and trained (and paid) by the government. (This appears to be the original policy document, which goes into detail about the policy and is even more hair-raising than the New York Times article.)
Apparently, they’ve been trying this program in pilot plants, with the results you’d expect — the “inspectors” are being placed at the end of the line where they can’t see what’s going on, and the increased speed of the lines (up to 200 birds per minute, from the current 140) makes it even less likely that defects will be spotted. (200 birds a minute is more than three birds per second. How much detail — mold, disease, defects — can you see if you’re looking at three birds per second?)
To the above point, I’d like to add that the main humane issue in the processing of poultry (and other animals) is the unbelievably immense number of birds being slaughtered — this results in chickens going through part of the slaughter process conscious, among other horrifying things (workers losing fingers; consumers contracting salmonella). Even assuming multiple lines, how do you humanely slaughter three chickens per second? How do you “oversee” such a process? Apparently the USDA has decided to “overlook” it instead.
Increasing the speed of the lines by 70% and reducing the effectiveness of oversight does not sound like an idea with the best interests of either the birds or the consumers at heart. No wonder the poultry industry has “applauded the Agriculture Department decision.”
(Bonus: check out the photo in that article, of “chickens in an egg farm”. How many hens are crammed into that tiny space? At least they’re not debeaked….)
–noun Law. The performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law; wrongdoing (used especially of an act in violation of a public trust).
I have more than twenty years' experience working with animals, and have always thought them worthy of consideration and respect. Imagine, then, my surprise when introduced to the field of animal research. From there I investigated meat production and other large-scale animal production processes. It's a scary world out there.