Behind the Walls: Chicken Abuse in Agribusiness
Perhaps, each of us has been at least once familiar with chickens, whether in the house where some of the households kept them, in a neighbor’s house, sometimes chickens are also placed in small running zoos, or just on TV. Depending on the country, some people have interacted with these birds more often than others. Unfortunately, these birds have always been seen as the target for just one purpose - food consumption - meat and eggs. Of course, no one denies the well-known fact that meat comes from animals, but only a little amount know what methods are used, how cruelly animals are treated in factory farms. This could make one think if the everyday habits are worth animals’ suffering?
Billions of chickens across the globe are kept and raised for commercial purposes, slaughtered every day, and badly treated in factory farms. This does not only harm animals, but poultry farming also affects the environment and concerns consumer safety. Domesticated birds’ meat is the most popular almost in every country of the world. For some reason a lot of people do not take birds into consideration, and, in case if they refuse consuming meat, they only exclude red meat, i.e, beef, buffalo, pork.
As it was mentioned above, chickens are raised and slaughtered for meat and eggs. Those who are used for meat purposes are called broilers and those chickens that are raised for egg production are called layers. In 2016, the United Nations estimated approximately 66 billion chickens slaughtered for food. From the statistics, it can be seen that chickens are slaughtered in every country of the world, they only differ by per capita consumption. Some countries are marked as white, meaning there is no information about that particular country’s production or those where the slaughter does not occur. Although there is no data on the chicken slaughterhouses in the white marked countries, it does not mean that this type of meat is not consumed there. Some of the countries may not have currently operating chicken slaughterhouses, instead, they import meat and eggs.
Chickens are intelligent, inquisitive animals. According to the experts in animal behavior, chickens are capable of solving problems. Dr. Chris Evans, one of the animal behaviorists, said that by not mentioning animals and listing these attributes, people assume that he talks about monkeys. Chickens use to forming friendships in nature, “recognize one another,” “develop a pecking order,” etc. But these all become impossible when these birds are cramped in the factory farms either in crowds or in tiny cages.
At the present time, chickens are fed with drugs to make birds grow fast and bigger. Because of the consumers’ habits, the chicken parts became more popular, thus, in agribusiness, chickens are now raised with “thicker breast, fatter wings, and chubbier drumsticks.”
Broiler chickens are those chickens raised for meat purposes. Broiler chickens are oftentimes raised indoors, in a crowded facility where chickens are not capable of spreading their wings or sunbath as they are used to doing in nature. In factory farms, chickens live very short and in pain. In agribusiness, chickens only reach 47 days old, although sometimes it varies from 21 to 170 days.
Broiler chickens are selectively bred, and the criteria are usually those birds who can grow large breast muscles. Broiler chickens’ life in factory farms starts in hatcheries. After one day, they are moved to conveyor belts where they get vaccinated.
See the broiler chicken production statistics of the United States.
Chickens raised for eggs
In 2019, the global egg production was estimated as more than 82.17 million metric tons. In the United States only, approximately 376 million hens are raised for egg production purposes. Chickens’ sex matters in the industry. When female chickens are grown up, they are moved to the facility where they can lay eggs or be slaughtered for food. Male chicks are considered useless in the egg industry because they cannot lay eggs and they cannot be slaughtered for the meat industry. They are cruelly killed with such methods as crushing, drowning, or burning to death. Some male chicks are suffocating in the trash bags.
In nature, chickens can live more than 10 years, but in cages they become exhausted, and after their egg production begins to fail, they are sent to slaughter. Thousands of chickens per week that do not seem “profitable” are beaten or gassed to death.
As it was mentioned above, there are practices done on farm animals that are considered “normal” and usually are not covered by laws. Despite the lack of protection under the law and opposing the general definition of cruelty, animals, including chickens, are inflicted unnecessary pain and suffering.
With that being said, one of the widespread practices that are done on chickens is debeaking. Debeaking is the process of beak removal of birds, mostly of egg-laying hens and turkeys. This is done to prevent damage during mating and to other animals in the confinement. A lot of different methods are used to conduct debeaking, but the most popular are a hot blade, cold blade (using scissors or secateurs), electrical, and infrared. There are other uncommon methods, such as freeze-drying, chemical retardation, and the use of lasers.
Read more: Evaluation of the Effects of Infrared Beak Trimming in Broiler Breeder Chicks
Forced molting is the practice used on poultry where birds are withdrawn from food for 7-14 days and sometimes from water to improve hens’ egg-laying process. During the forced molting, birds stop producing eggs for a certain period of time, and this allows the egg production rate to increase in the future and the quality of eggs becomes higher. Apart from the food and water withdrawal, sometimes hens are also deprived of the light except daylight to stimulate egg production. Other methods include a low-density diet, such as feeding hens with grape pomace, cottonseed meal, etc.
Read more: Review: Feed Withdrawal and Non-Feed Withdrawal Moult
In the slaughterhouses, chickens are hung upside down, are injured while being still conscious. Birds are put in scalding-hot water to remove their feathers, their throats are cut. This practice is immensely abusive and is generally not regulated by law. Some countries have regulations with regard to treating the livestock, some countries do not allow ill-treatment, but for the most part, these provisions are left either unattended, or not enforced, or too vague to be considered a crime or an administrative violation.
A lot of consumers, whether they care for animals, the environment, or just due to health concerns, rely on the media sources, such as TV, internet. Other consumers rely on the information indicated on the package. Some people do not feel guilty if they see on the package that chickens or other animals were raised in a humane manner or free-range. A lot of egg companies indicate that chickens were raised in an open area with access to grass and sun.
Other companies claim that their chickens or chicken products were raised humanely and using sustainable practices. With that being said, Tyson Foods Inc., for example, was sued by the Food & Water Watch and Organic Consumers Association. The two groups’ statement was that “…nearly a dozen undercover investigations in as many years have uncovered systematic cruelty inflicted intentionally upon chickens raised for Tyson products.” It was also stated in the complaint that “to mitigate the mating problems, diminished egg production, illness, injuries, and premature death caused by fast-growing breeds’ genetic predisposition to rapid obesity, breeder birds are kept in a perpetual state of starvation…” while laying eggs that will eventually become the chickens used for meat” and that Tyson Foods Inc. used “nose bones,” which is the practice of shoving a plastic rod into roosters’ nostrils for this purpose.
Read more: The Complaint: Food & Water Watch Inc. and Organic Consumers Association v. Tyson Foods Inc., Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil Division (2019).
There have also been some misleading statements in advertising egg products. There is the issue with putting the “cage-free” or “free-range” statements on the egg cartons. These terms can be misleading for consumers because they do not clarify the true meaning and indicate high standards of animal welfare. The Oxford Dictionary, for example, provides that free-range means “kept in natural conditions, with freedom of movement,” but this is not true most of the time because chickens cannot have freedom of movement in commercial facilities. Therefore, this may deceive the consumer who wants to buy “free-range” eggs.
Read more: Free Range or Free Reign? False Advertising in the Egg Industry
Eliminating the agribusiness involving animals might sound impossible. However, the animal protection world urges every citizen to take into consideration the lives of other beings too. The animal welfare approach is not effective when it comes to using animals in agriculture, while birds and other farm animals are kept and raised in terrifying conditions and are treated cruelly. Is the future close? In countries, where plant-based meat is not available, meat-based companies or fast food branches - Burger King, Subway - are being partnered with vegan manufacturers and providing vegetarian/vegan options. Many would argue that meat is the source of proteins, however, there are other foods that have existed for a long period of time - tempeh, tofu, seitan, which are filled with proteins too.