Uncaged: The Truth Behind The Poultry Industry

March 2015 008 ADJ (Large)
Santa Clara University Authors: Evangelia Bouzos, Miguel Chapa, Maxen Chung, Colin Costello, Mary Fowler, Felicia Frans, Alec Girouard, Nicholas Goodpaster, Johnpaul Hurley, Sean Karstein, Roman Lyman, Kush Mahajani, Allison Mueller, Maile Naito, Hannah Press, Kai Schmidt, Henry Strickland

In 1928, Presidential nominee Herbert Hoover promised Americans “A chicken in every pot” (Miller Center). Ironically, this assurance of prosperity was derailed a short nine months later, when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression ensued. However, the spirit of this promise lives on today, as Americans strive for prosperity- a successful career, a happy marriage, a quaint townhouse, two kids, a nice car, and family dinners.

With amazing technological and medical advances and a material wealth unmatched by any other in history, we have created the world’s most prosperous economy. In fact, we have quite literally reached the goal of “a chicken in every pot.”  For the first time in over one hundred years, chicken is more popular than beef in the United States. A Huffington Post article focusing on this phenomenon reveals that the average American ate about sixteen pounds of chicken per year in the 1950s. Fifty years later, that number grew to over fifty pounds per year (Huffington Post).  That number has continued to rise and chicken has steadily become a main staple of the American diet. It is everywhere. It is the foundation of common restaurant dishes, such as parmesan, barbecued, and grilled chicken. It is included in many ethnic meals, such as the Mexican taco and the Chinese chow mein. It is prevalent in the fast food arena, not only with poultry based chains, such as Popeyes, Chick-fil-A, and KFC, but also among well-known burger franchises, such as Burger King.  Sometimes, it’s even hard to find a salad without chicken in it.

What we like to imagine.

In fact, this bird is so prevalent in our diets that many of us neglect to consider the life of this animal and how it ultimately arrives on our plates. When thinking about a chicken, it is natural to imagine an innocent, pecking bird wandering aimlessly around a farm, until it is large enough to be slaughtered and eaten.

In reality, the life of the chicken that ends up on our plates is anything but idyllic . As a result of the greed and selfishness of American producers and consumers, factory-farmed poultry exists in a system filled with violence and torture .

The Truth

In a satirical essay called “Body Ritual among the Nacirema,” Horace Miner brings attention to the self-obsessed, violent nature of the American individual and culture by observing Americans as though he is an anthropologist observing a “tribe.” Through this observation, many of our silly rituals–our obsession with mirrors and self image, teeth, breast implants–become clearer when we take a step back to view their ridiculousness from a different perspective.  The same might apply to the way we farm and consume chickens.  When we take a step back, we are able to recognize the destructiveness of our greed and begin to reform the violence that is so prevalent in our way of life. The vicious cycle of the factory farming system, if put into perspective, can begin to be reformed by the simple realization of the problem and recognition that there is absolutely no reason that it can’t be better and humane.

When reflecting on the cause of violence in the poultry industry, some Americans claim that there is not just one origin, as they maintain the idea that Americans have complex motivations and a superior morality. This idea can be traced back to the founding of our country and the original thirteen colonies. Traces of Puritan ideals can still be found today and may serve as the foundation for the country’s morals. We see this especially in the work place. The Puritan idea that socializing while working serves as a distraction from God’s assignment has influenced the way people act in their place of work, as Americans tend to be less in tune with the emotions of others while working (Hutson). This emotional detachment often helps to foster violence, since the workers can often be emotionally distant from their work.  For the sake of being “professional,” workers often fail to acknowledge the consequences of their actions.

The violence in the poultry industry exemplifies this idea. Workers in slaughterhouses have to ignore their emotions to complete the tasks that are required by their jobs, like debeaking chickens and shoving them into small cages. In the film

Carole Morison from Food Inc.

Food Inc., Carole Morison, a woman who raised chickens for the Factory Farm corporation Perdue, was interviewed by the producers. Because she could not handle the conditions and violence she was expected to maintain on her farm, she lost her contract with Perdue. While she was unable to follow the Puritan belief of separating emotions from the workplace, she introduces another moral: rights and respect.  Luckily, Carole was able to turn her lost contract into a new, more responsible and sustainable model of chicken farming.  The video below, checks in on Carole after the production of Food Inc.

Despite our perceived place on the moral high ground, in reality, our food system is fundamentally flawed.  Even though individuals within the system oppose animal cruelty and suffering, greed and selfishness on the part of both businesses and consumers create and perpetuate a system of violence in the poultry system. The entire system boils down to a cycle, driven by the simplistic demand for money. When we, the consumers, ask grocery stores and restaurants for cheaper food, we are not asking for more cruelty—we are trying to save ourselves a few dollars. What comes with it, however, is cruelty.  This demand makes its way from the consumers to the food producers. When a corporate executive asks a farmer to try to “improve efficiency,” they are not asking for the farmer to be crueler to the chickens—they are just trying to improve their company’s bottom line. However, the easiest way for the farmer to increase efficiency is to become crueler–for example, by packing more chickens into the same tiny cage. This cycle of demands, ultimately driven by money, allows violence to develop and flourish. As Horace Miner encouraged us to do in his essay, we need to take a step back and reflect on the consequences of a food system driven by the demand for cheaper food.

Many Americans are so caught up in the fast-paced life of working nine-to-five jobs, raising kids, and paying bills that they do not have the means to focus on saving money for healthy, humane, and/or organic food choices. Most Americans are not going to the grocery store and thinking about which type of meat achieved the best treatment and humane care; they claim not to have the time, interest or money. Even those who can afford it and claim to be advocates for better, humane food, often buy factory farmed meat.  The result of so many people buying these cheap, factory farmed chickens is that demand is rising.  Whether we like it or not, our buying habits as Americans are telling the factory farms that we want more violence and abuse, not less.  The pen might be mighter than the sword, but in America, nothing is mightier than the dollar.

In Food Inc., a low-income family struggles with their food choices.  The father has diabetes, works all day for little pay, and has to support multiple children.  The family claims that they only have the means to by fast and cheap food because of their financial status and working circumstances (Kenner).  A few burgers from McDonald’s is much easier and cheaper than going to the store, buying ingredients, and cooking a meal at home. This family exemplifies consumers who are trapped in their choices.  They are not choosing cruelly raised chicken because they like it.  They are choosing it because we have trapped them in those choices.  And every time they buy another chicken sandwich at McDonald’s, it sends with it another dollar to the factory farmers.  And with that dollar comes this message: More, please.

Egg factory farm

When you buy that chicken sandwich, you don’t see the egg, the chicken, or the farm.  That distance between the poultry business and their consumers is often the cause of the ethical issues of ignorance and inaction on the part of the consumer. The poultry industry ensures that consumers have poor exposure to its inner workings, thus making it very difficult to form opinions on its processes, and very easy to live their lives free of the horrible truth and images of violence in the system. This is successful thanks to elaborate marketing schemes and corporate tactics taken by chicken producers and distributors to minimize knowledge of the origins of consumer products. As Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the book Eating Animals, asks, “Do you eat chicken because you are familiar with the scientific literature on them and have decided that their suffering doesn’t matter, or do you do it because it tastes good?” (Foer). We, as consumers, are accustomed to mindlessly pushing carts through aisles of supermarkets without suffering through crippling thoughts of tortured chickens. By design, our consciousness is safe and distracted by flash sales and happy cartoon pictures of the animals who are victimized for our satiation. While many consumers would be concerned by the truth about their poultry products, we are likely to routinely live our lives without such concerns.

Costco

Whether we are ignorant to the truth behind our food system or not, we are undoubtedly sheltered from reality, and seemingly content with it. The efforts of consumer activists such as Jonathan Safran Foer, the producers of the documentary, Food Inc., and groups such as the Animal Liberation Front or Compassion in World Farming bring the hidden violence in the food industry to the public eye and force consumers to form their own opinions in order to make a difference. In a 2003 Gallup poll, for example, it was found that 62% of Americans favor passing strict laws concerning the treatment of farm animals, thus proving that consumers have the capacity for compassion and would support more regulation (Blatt). The problem, however, remains; poor exposure prevents many consumers from thinking about, or consequently acting against the status quo. Would change occur if the entire public was better educated and could clearly tell where their food comes from? Human nature would suggest so.

Mindless consumption

It is crucial to highlight that, despite the existence of distance between humans and animals presented subconsciously among many, if not most, American consumers, a minority of citizens exist in our nation who do know about the system and who go out of their way to act against chicken mistreatment in the food industry. Since the rise of intensive chicken farming in the early 1960’s, animal rights activists began forming animal welfare organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States in 1954 and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (commonly known as PETA) in 1980. Furthermore, with the widespread adoption of the Internet, activists acquired the ability to easily and quickly propagate information, their ideas, and their values to a wider audience. Consequently, in this day and age, more people have easy  access to such organizations, as well as information about how chickens are treated in the factory farming industry. If animal welfare has gained more traction since the formation of animal activism against factory farming, why does it seem that this ideal lacks presence in the majority of our day-to-day lives? Think about it this way: Picture yourself visiting a major chain supermarket that you frequent. Last time you went to purchase groceries, do you remember seeing multiple advertisements, brochures, or posters about chicken welfare in the food industry? Reality exposes the limited presentation of animal rights or chicken welfare. On one hand, this is because food businesses want to avoid indirect insinuation of risk towards meat sales. However, on the other hand, it is an underlying reason presented by the consumer. There is a strong distinction between those who simply think “the treatment of chickens in the food industry is horrible” and those who take one step further to act upon it.

Activists boldly strip down for a PETA campaign against KFC.

Often, we roll our eyes at groups like PETA as if they are uncool or ridiculous.  But what is more uncool or ridiculous than walking straight into the factory farms’ trap of making incredible amounts of money off our ignorance, excuses, and inability to make buying choices that are in line with our values?

Our public actions and decisions are inherently governed by social norm. According to Cialdini and Trost’s article “Social Influence: Social Norms, Conformity, and Compliance,” “One of the most important characteristics of norms is that they do not exist if they are not shared with others” (153). The sharing of a new idea is the most effective for conveying and introducing like-minded mentality to individuals’ lives. One reason why chicken welfare or animal activism in general is not a part of the lives of many consumers’ is that the actual formation of such mentality and values was not established during a time when information could be shared easily. In other words, because the rise of the animal rights movement appeared in the early 1950’s before the creation of the internet, factory farms were fully prepared to suppress information by the time the internet came around. It’s easy to see how online videos and Facebook posts can so easily attract attention and shape consumers’ views.  Sometimes, they can even alter the norm. But now, since the norm does not easily accept the moral values brought forth by animal activism, people who go out of their way to actually introduce animal activism are more likely to be ostracized by others. The reasons are complicated, but it’s easy to see that the norm is to reject something that is inconvenient.  While it may be that “norms develop to encourage or curtail behaviors that are connected to survival, on either an individual or an a group level,” it’s hard to see factory farming this way, which is exactly why it’s so disturbing (Cialdini, Trost 153).

The consumers’ apparent apathy towards the issue of chicken treatment contributes to the cycle of violence perpetuated in factory farms. American consumers’ incredible ability to conform to harmful and dangerous social norms, is shocking.  It’s hard to imagine that, if we took the message from Horace Miner and looked at ourselves from a distant vantage point, that we wouldn’t see our food choices as driven by an anti-intellectual greed and selfishness that fails almost completely to consider animal welfare. While the factory farms do an incredible job of keeping the consumers out of their farms and ignorant of their practices, the consumers do an incredible job of accepting it.

From the Article: “Perdue Farmer Reveals How Bad Life Is For His ‘Humanely Raised’ Chickens”

In the vicious factory farming industry, the pernicious process is only able to continue its cycle with the participation of both the consumer and producer alike. Yet, without a strong relationship between the consumer and producer, friction develops within the system.  In the industrial food system, getting in touch with the CEO of a food producing company definitely involves more than one simple phone call. Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, addressed the false advertisement of Perdue’s products which were labeled as “humanely raised” in his article, “Abusing Chickens We Eat”. Kristof interviewed a North Carolina chicken farmer regarding the propaganda of Perdue’s humane practices. When Kristof tried to call Perdue in response to the discovery of the raw undersides of chickens at a Perdue farm, “Jim Perdue declined to comment, but a company spokeswoman, Julie DeYoung, agreed that undersides of chickens shouldn’t be weeping red. She suggested that the operator was probably mismanaging the chicken house” (Kristof). This phone call displays the barrier between not only the consumer and the producer, but also the producer and the distributor and their bosses. It’s not preposterous to suggest that Julie DeYoung would be shocked to the see the conditions at even the best of her company’s chicken producers.  Due to this barrier, consumers can feel powerless when it comes to changing the cycle, and choose to continue to support the violence in the food system by purchasing factory farmed foods. Yet, by choosing to not take action, consumers–just like the factory farms themselves–still actively participate in the violent cycle, and further exacerbate its injustices.

From the Article: “Perdue Farmer Reveals How Bad Life Is For His ‘Humanely Raised’ Chickens”
“Whole Foods and the GMO Blame Game”

In a study regarding the role of trust in the perception of the quality of local foods, it was demonstrated that a consumer’s accessibility to the producer of their food reinforces their trust in the producer (Hérault). When there is a mutual friendship between the consumer and producer, there is also an implied sense of care between the two as well. For example, when people purchase foods from a local farmer or at a farmer’s market, there is trust because the farmer trusts that a pleased consumer will continue to purchase his or her product, and the consumer trusts in the quality of the food provided by the farmer because he or she is often standing right in front of him. In the modern agriculture business, CEO’s will often decline to comment in order to protect the image of their company. As in Kristof’s phone call, if the Perdue representative were to get sued because of her statement, the blame would fall on the individual, rather than on the entire company, despite that she claims to represent the company. This cycle of passing the blame from person to person fuels the revolving cycle between the consumer, producer, and the corporation. When a consumer gets sick from his food, he blames the company who supplied him with it. Since the company is only in charge of managing the produced food products and where they are to be sent, the companies often blame individual farmers. These farmers blame the company and government for the safety guidelines which are set and passed by the USDA. And then the business blames the consumer, saying that if we didn’t buy it, they wouldn’t produce it.  This incessant blame game fails to resolve any of the massive problems that persist in the factory farming industry, and further dilutes the issues.

The demand for cheap food and efficient production is especially apparent on the business side of the poultry industry, as large producers take extreme measures to maximize their output without regard for human or animal welfare. The most telling example of penny pinching in the poultry system is the inside of a factory farm. These farms were not the standard for many years of American history; they are a product of American, selfish greed. Many of the measures executives take to increase their profits are dangerous and unnecessary. For example, the selective breeding used to produce the maximum amount of meat in the shortest time possible is not necessary to feed our population. However, executives are so committed to improving their production that they invest millions of dollars in research and development in order to create these. These measures have been proven to be deadly to humans as well as animals. For example, in 2013, Foster Farms’ rush to produce massive amounts of chicken in a short amount of time proved so dangerous that a deadly salmonella outbreak caused many of their products to be recalled after hundreds of people got sick (“Multistate Outbreak…”). Judging simply by Foster Farms’ reluctance to recall their meat, it is clear that high level executives are willing to go to drastic measures to increase their net profit, sometimes at the cost of human lives.

It might all be somewhat easy to explain if factory farms were, at the very least, efficient.  It is a common misconception that factory farms are the single most efficient system to produce food for America’s growing population. Factory farms are not the result of pseudo-natural selection on a corporate level, but the outcome of executives trying to make an already broken system produce more and more food at a lower cost. This is clear as the shipping costs alone for factory farms are outrageously high and corporations can only afford to continue due to their massive size. Factory farms require massive amounts of resources in order to run (Kirby), and rather than looking for alternative solutions, or moving farms to more central locations, they choose to pay millions to spread out their business.

The myth of factory farm efficiency

It’s clear that, for some reason, the factory farms that produce our chickens have avoided, at all costs, the responsibility of creating a healthy and humane system.  This poor mindset has unfortunately led to the raising of chickens in “huge, ammonia-filled, windowless sheds” (Poultry). The administrators create rules that the farmers must follow.  The farmers are forced to cut corners, and often raise chickens in ways they do not like or find humane, efficient, or sustainable.  The workers suffer, often because their treatment is at the bottom of the list of priorities.  In the end, the system scarily resembles a kind of slavery for both animal and worker.

From “The Veg Monologues”

Another way the business puts its “any means necessary” mindset to work is through a form of blackmail. In order to keep what happens on factory farms as much of a secret as possible they hold contracts over the heads of the farmers who work for them, threatening to terminate them if they reveal too much about the inhumanity. As previously mentioned, in the documentary, Food Inc., the Perdue poultry farmer, Carole Morison, showed her disappointment, saying that, ‘“farmers don’t want to talk because the company can do what it wants to as far as pay goes, since they control everything”’ (Food). The companies undoubtedly see that violence and misery have become key components of the poultry industry, but it seems that they see it more as an inevitable occurrence, rather than what most activists see it as: a forced result of the companies’ own wrongdoing. The demands they have placed on the farmers and workers have definitely fostered anger from the latter party: an anger that likely has promoted the torture and violence on factory farms and in slaughterhouses.

Corporate greed perpetuates violence upon the lowest levels of employees working in the factory farms, who in turn act violently towards the animals. Administrators at factory farms neglect to create a safe and healthy work environment for those working on the factory floors. For instance, an article published in The New York Times in 2002 depicts a $10 million settlement payout by Perdue Farms to the Labor Department (Greenhouse). The company failed to “pay poultry workers for time spent putting on and removing clothes and protective gear.” Given how much safety equipment is required in these jobs, to not pay these already overworked employees for job-related activities highlights just how little the people in power care about the employees that work for them in the factories.

To make matters worse, this isn’t the only big poultry chain responsible for cutting corners. “The department also sued Tyson foods…charging it with similarly not paying workers for such time” (Greenhouse). In addition to taking incremental, yet significant, cuts out of employees’ pay, refusal to pay for this “donning and doffing” also incentivizes employees not to wear said safety gear since they are not being paid to do so. In another instance of a health-related oversight, Tyson Foods reached a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2013 over “allegations that the company violated safety regulations at facilities in the Midwest where workers were exposed to dangerous levels of ammonia” (Jaimeson). Anhydrous ammonia is “a gas that’s commonly used in refrigerators but can cause burning, choking, and even death at high exposure.” Symptoms of ammonia exposure range from burning of the eyes to death from a swollen throat or chemical burn to the lungs (Jaimeson). The notion that such a large producer of poultry would expose its employees to such a deadly chemical serves as further proof that corporate greed outweighs the desire to preserve the health and safety of employees.

“Chickens lie in their own waste much of their lives.”

A Huffington Post article reveals that “workers in the meat industry make an average of $23,000 a year, work 10+ hours a day, are pushed so hard they often defecate in their pants to avoid slowing down and suffer a repetitive motion injury rate 30 times the national average” (Spangher). These shocking statistics illustrate just how overworked and abused these people are. The example of workers defecating in their pants on the job offers furthers the apt comparison to the animals in the factories, who live in piles of their own fecal matter. To make matters worse, “38 percent of all factory farm workers are from outside the U.S. and have an undocumented status. Workers interviewed said superiors exploit their risk of deportation and unfamiliarity of the language to induce a constant fear, pushing longer hours and harsher conditions” (Spangher). Employers at factory farms will do whatever it takes to get the most productivity out of their workers, making immigrants their ideal targets. For instance, “most women interviewed spoke of sexual harassment and assault that they suffered at the hands of superiors.” These disgusting abuses of work and human rights paint a picture almost akin to slavery in its grim, manipulative nature. These overworked and harassed employees take out their own frustrations on the animals. As depicted in Eating Animals, workers at KFC poultry farms are known to urinate on, burn, and rip the heads off of chickens (Foer). Yet these actions aren’t so much a reflection of the workers’ malevolent nature, but of the harsh nature of their jobs. “While their actions are not condonable, it is at least apparent that workers develop desensitization to killing in order to survive; the cruelty we see them exhibit towards the animals is an unfortunate but inevitable result of the structure of subordination that the workers are locked into” (Spangher). Clearly, worker abuse is representative of the abuse perpetuated in the factory farm system due to corporate greed.

Since the development of the factory farm, many methods have been established to reduce the amount of money that goes into maintaining the animals. This is done in order to reach an optimal output so that the company can make as much money as possible. This concern for money has negatively affected the living conditions of the chickens because their cage sizes have been reduced significantly. According to an experiment conducted by the Japanese Society of Animal Science, the cage does in fact impact the behavior of the chickens. In this experiment, chickens were placed in three different types of cages (battery cages, furnished cages, and aviaries) and they were observed over a certain period of time. The results concluded that the type of cage in which a chicken is put does affect its behavior. The chickens that had the most distinct behavior were the ones that were placed in the aviary. This cage serves the purpose of holding a large amount of chickens. Since these cages can hold so many animals at once, frustration is very prevalent in the lives of the poultry and violence easily erupts within the cages.

Not only are the living conditions of the chickens horrendous, but they are tortured for their entire lives. There have been many incidents in which activists have entered facilities and recorded events such as employees brutally murdering some of the chickens by throwing them against walls or stepping on them (Simon). There is a sense of violence and apathy that is very present in the industry but for unknown reasons.

This violence is present even at birth. If you could go back in time to the moment you were born, what do you believe you would experience? Would you be dumbfounded at the amazing world that you had entered into? Perhaps you would marvel at finally feeling the air on your skin. Or maybe you feel hopeful for the future that lies ahead of you. Now imagine that all these thoughts suddenly end as your life comes to an abrupt ending hours after you were born. This is the reality that millions of male chicks face during their brief stay on our planet. With the rise of the industrial food system, chickens have become specialized in their role as a food source. Laying hens that provide us eggs are much different from the broiler (i.e. food) chickens. Because of this, the unwanted chicks, such as male laying roosters, are disposed of at birth, as they are viewed as an unnecessary cog in the industrial food system (Davies). The practice of merely killing animals because they are deemed “useless” should be outlawed because it sets a dangerous precedent for the treatment of other animals that we might label as “useless” in the future. These chicks are disposed of through a process called “chick culling,” which plays out like a scene from a horror movie. A chick sexer, who sorts the chicks based on their gender, then places them onto two separate conveyer belts. One of the conveyer belts takes the chicks that are deemed “useful” (i.e. profitable) by the food corporation, while the other carries the “unwanted” (i.e. not as profitable) chicks down to a machine that acts as a “chick shredder” (see fig. 1.)

Figure 1: “Chick Shredder”

 

“Chick Culling Video” WARNING!! EXTREMELY GORY:

 

Some countries, such as Germany, have placed an outright ban on chick culling on the grounds that the practice is killing chicks “without reasonable cause” (Davies). However, this ban has been met with backlash from the German chicken producers who argue that the practice put them at a “competitive disadvantage” (Davies). They claim that the process is necessary because raising the male chicks to be food is simply too inefficient. To alleviate these concerns, a new process called “in-ovo sexing” is being developed that promises to eliminate chick culling altogether. By using infrared stereoscopic imaging, hatcheries will be able to determine the gender of the chick before the egg is even incubated (Steiner). Unilever, a corporation known in the food industry for products such as “Hellman’s Mayonnaise,” has recently committed to researching and developing the process so that their products can be more humane. The hope is that more corporations begin to adopt this stance, but it remains to be determined as to how corporations will react to this new technology.

Our culture is obsessed with death. From the award winning television show, The Walking Dead, to gory stories on the news, the majority of the public cannot get enough of it. In fact, there are shows such as 1000 Ways to Die airing on television that inform viewers of the various ways that they could meet their end. For broiler chickens in the industrial food system, however, there are two basic ways that their lives come to an end. Firstly, they could die due to their poor living conditions. Secondly, they could be killed for their meat in a slaughterhouse.  While dying slowly in a cage may seem like the worse option of the two, current practices make slaughtering a painful and stressful process for the chicken. Current slaughtering practices do not give the chickens a quick and painless death. There are various methods employed to kill chickens, and most of them induce stress during the process. Most chickens are killed by the slitting of their throats; however, the primarily inhumane component of the process is the sedation method. Some chickens are put through the painful process of the electric bath where they are stunned through electrocution. Others are gassed with carbon dioxide which leaves many of them gasping and hyperventilating (Coghlan).

Even before they are culled or slaughtered, chickens are being abused in a way that affects their entire species. A long history of selective breeding has resulted in modern chickens being nothing more than a grotesque abstraction of the traditional variety. Generation upon generation has been bred to maximize yield and promote efficiency. While the birds may grow larger in a shorter period of time, this increased growth results in a  variety of health issues such as “musculoskeletal problems, male infertility, [and] metabolic disease” (Noll). Although chickens have been genetically modified purely through selective breeding in the past, advances in genetic science are making it more and more possible to directly alter an animal’s genes. It is speculated that these kind of alterations can lead to ailments similar to or possibly even worse than those above.

Chicken feed includes a variety of drugs to keep diseases from spreading through the chicken population. Furthermore, the selective breeding leaves the chickens with a weaker immune system, so even simply keeping them alive in the conditions of a factory farm is a precise science and big challenge. In the case of one parasitic disease, coccidia, chickens are actually put on a rotation of different drugs to avoid the parasite building up an immunity (“Drugs”). The necessity of drugs just to stay alive is the sorry state in which entire populations of chicken’s live, and it would not be necessary if not for the current model of the industrial food system.

In the lively West Seattle farmers’ market, a place where sustainable, ethically raised chicken abounds, countless people peruse the aisles, enjoying the lively music, fresh smells, and pleasant interactions with those around them.  They chat with the lettuce growers, and talk with the local farmer who raised the chicken they just purchased.  A farmers’ market is the first-choice for many consumers when buying their groceries because the purchaser can know where his food originated.

However, many are quick to claim that the prices at farmers’ markets are outside of their budget.  In today’s financially conscious society, the cost of goods is often more important than other aspects of the production process.  Many consumers fail to understand that their inexpensive Foster Farm, Perdue, or Tyson chicken, probably shipped from over 1000 miles away, is filled with antibiotics, bacteria, artificial preservatives, and feces and was killed in an inhumane manner.  Picking up an inexpensive chicken at your local grocery chain may seem to be the most cost-effective way to purchase meat.  However, a Seattle Times article from 2007 asserts that, “Market prices are more consistent…because farmers set them without having to split each dollar among distributors, packing houses and warehouses as conventional grocers do,” and many items are actually less expensive at farmers’ markets than in traditional grocery stores (Gaudette).  When consumers explore their local farmers’ markets to find more humane alternatives to industrial meat, the distance between the consumer and producer is drastically reduced, while simultaneously increasing consumer awareness about atrocities in the food industry.  Educating consumers results in a positive chain reaction: if we agree that cheaper meat is not necessarily better meat, we will reduce our dependence on the factory farming industry, and begin to curb the violent and vicious cycle that persists in our system today.

At Chipotle, one of their most popular meat options, carnitas, was recently removed from over a third of the chain’s stores because one of their main suppliers failed to comply with the company’s animal welfare standards (Charles).  By staying true to its company mantra, Chipotle highlights that a large restaurant chain can successfully maintain high animal welfare standards.  Chipotle’s innovation has blazed a trail for the entire food industry, encouraging other large restaurant chains to follow suit.  This restaurant’s incredibly loyal customer base and a very successful business model highlights how profit-driven businesses do not always have to sacrifice humane practices for efficiency, even when they have to sacrifice part of their inventory and make their customers sacrifice a carnitas burrito too.

Tending the flock. 1941.

While many American consumers and producers know about the atrocities in the poultry farming industry, few make animal welfare a primary focus.  Would you still want to eat a chicken if you were forced to witness it being stuffed in a cage, forced to sit in its own feces, and knew that it was genetically altered? If you answered “no,” then companies are successfully keeping such information from you or you are failing to make choices that align with your values.  By changing your own choices and encouraging regulations currently imposed by the FDA and USDA, chickens might just have a chance to live comfortably and humanely. In California, a proposition was recently passed that requires egg laying hens to live in larger cages (Charles). This is one of the many ways we are beginning to improve the living standards of the chicken, and a way for a consumer to easily support a change. But doing nothing, shrugging, and continuing to support the industry will make things worse.  You might think the world is big, you have no power and control, and that what you do makes no difference.  The world is small, you have more power and control than you think, and you’re already making a difference.  Factory farming didn’t exist fifty years ago.  What that means is that your great, great grandfathers and grandmothers died before we even started this dirty business.  What would they saw about what we’ve done and how quickly we’ve done it?  What would they say about that factory farmed chicken in our shopping carts?

 

WORKS CITED

 

“14 Steps That Will Evolve Your Views on Eating Animals.” PETA 14 Steps That Will Evolve Your Views on Eating Animals. PETA, n.d. Digital Image. 20 Jan. 2015. <http://www.peta.org/living/food/14-steps-will-evolve-views-eating-animals/&gt;

 

“American President: A Reference Resource.” Miller Center: University of Virginia. n.d. Web. 21 January 2015.

 

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