Veg*nuary

**no animals were harmed in the making of this blog**

Chicken little

on January 2, 2013

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“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.”

– George Orwell, Animal Farm, Ch. 1

A friend commented yesterday that it is in the farmers best interest for the animals they raise to be happy, healthy and well taken care of. He stated that if the animal died, the farmer lost money and if the animal lived miserably, the meat would be of poor quality. Makes sense doesn’t it? But is it true?

In the case of chickens:

I almost didn’t bother to address this. Is there anyone out there who believe chickens are treated well, or even humanely? Aren’t we all shamefully aware of the cruel practices of chicken farming? For the sake of not leaving anyone out, here is a look at the life and death of chickens.

Broiler chickens:

 The birds raised for meat, called “broilers” by the industry, are the product of genetic manipulation that has drastically increased breast and thigh tissue (the most popular parts of the animal) and produced a very rapid growth rate that outstrips the development of their legs and organs. Broilers raised in this way are supposed to reach “slaughter weight” at just six or seven weeks of age, but the death toll is very high. The growth of abnormally heavy bodies causes crippling and painful skeletal deformities, and the overburdening of the birds’ underdeveloped cardiopulmonary systems often causes congestive heart failure before they are six weeks old. Some broiler chickens who do not succumb to these problems still die of thirst, because they are physically unable to even reach the water nozzles in their sheds. Other common causes of death pre-slaughter are heat prostration, cancer—in an animal less than seven weeks old—and infectious diseases.

Broiler-chicken facilities tend to be extremely overcrowded, with tens of thousands of birds crammed into a single closed broiler house. Each chicken is given less than a square foot of space, so hardly any floor is actually visible. The birds are unable to roam, to scratch, or, indeed, to avoid each other at all. Their instinct to live in a hierarchical community is thwarted, and social tension results. Chickens living in these stressful conditions will peck and fight with each other, which has led chicken producers to the “solution” of debeaking chicks shortly after they hatch in order to minimize damage. This debeaking process, like much else in factory farming, is run assembly-line fashion, without anesthesia; the chicks are placed beak-first into an apparatus that quickly cuts the tips off the beaks with a hot blade.

It is impossible, in such an atmosphere, to maintain health and cleanliness. The chickens’ excretions pile up, and the resulting ammonia fumes become so strong that they burn the birds’ eyes, and blindness results. Reports from observers say that birds with “ammonia burn” rub their eyes with their wings and emit cries of pain. Other health problems include the proliferation of Salmonella bacteria, which can remain on the slaughtered birds and so frequently cause threats to human health that special chicken-meat handling practices are invariably recommended by health authorities.

Once the chickens have attained slaughter weight, they are loaded into crowded trucks that offer no protection from extreme temperatures, and many birds die as they are shipped to processing facilities. The most efficient of these facilities kill some 8,400 birds per hour, the result of a high degree of automation. Machines run by humans automatically stun the birds, cut their throats, and scald and pluck them. First, human workers strap the live chickens into leg shackles on a moving rail, from which the birds hang upside-down as they move on to baths of electrified water, which stuns them. This is ostensibly for humane purposes, in order to render them insensible before their throats are cut, but some observers believe it is done merely to immobilize them to a degree sufficient to make further processing easier, not to desensitize them. The stunned birds move on to a mechanical blade that cuts their throats. After the chickens bleed out, they are plunged into a scalding bath that removes feathers. Unfortunately, this high-speed assembly-line process contains potential missteps. The voltage in the electrified bath may be too low, resulting in the rapid recovery of the chickens, who are then well aware of the throat-cutting machine as they approach it. The blade misses many chickens, so they consequently are boiled alive in the scalding bath.

Chickens are exempted from the USDA’s Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which mandates that animals be rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered. The Humane Society of the United States is one of several organizations lobbying to obtain a requirement that poultry animals not be exempted from legislation that would protect them from painful, sometimes torturous, death.

I won’t be so cruel as to leave you with that and no choices or solutions! In order to make better choices, here is a glossary of terms in regards to farmed chickens in Canada.

Free Run

Free run is different than free range in that chickens do not necessarily need to be raised outside but they are required to be able to move around freely within the barn. Though there is no legal definition of this, all chickens raised for meat in Canada are considered free run.

Free Range

Free range birds must have access to the outdoors. However, since there is no legal definition of free range in Canada, this can vary from farm to farm. Be wary of “fresh” free range chicken in stores when it’s -30 degrees outside, it may have been frozen product defrosted for sale and should not be re-frozen.

Organic Chicken

Chicken that is sold as “organic” is raised to a specific standard as laid out by the Canadian General Standards Board, in addition to the standards set by a reputable organic certification board. Since these boards vary from province to province, there are slight differences in the rules for organic farming in different areas of the country, but in general, organic chicken must be raised with at certified organic feed that contains no animal by-products or antibiotics and any supplements, such as vitamins, must be approved by a certification body.

Grain Fed

Since all chicken in Canada is given a feed that consists of at over 88% grain, this term is typically just used for marketing. Chicken labeled as “grain fed” is stating the obvious, though some brands boast special types of grain, such as vegetarian grain.

Vegetarian Grain fed

Vegetarian grain fed, on the other hand, means that the feed given to the flock contains no animal by-products, which are often added to feed as a protein source. In these cases, the feed contains only vegetable protein such as soy, which can alter the flavour and colour of the meat. While chickens are omnivores, chickens can be raised on vegetarian feed, as long as an appropriate protein level is achieved.

Raised without antiiotics

Raised without antibiotics on the label means that the chicken was not treated in any way with antibiotics. For more information on the use of antibiotics in raising chicken, visit our Chicken & Antibiotics section.

Hormone and/or steroid free

Though it is rare, some marketers still classify their chicken as “hormone free.” This is little more than a marketing tactic, since the use of hormones in raising poultry has been banned since the 1960s in Canada.

Halal

With respect to food, Islamic laws are very specific and Muslims seek to eat foods defined as “Halal,” which is defined by Muslims as “that which is allowed.” Essentially, “Halal” means permitted by God, or “Allah,” the Law-Giver. Muslims are taught that the animals must be well-rested and handled in a way that minimizes suffering. Many stores offer Halal choices in stores – although some regions may have limited availability. Check with your local store for more information. More information on Halal meat and Halal standards can be sought by contacting the Islamic Society of North America at www.isnacanada.com.

The other choice is to not consume chicken. Or to consume less. Another choice that we often don’t consider is to be mindful of our waste. Buying and/or cooking more than we need, not using leftovers, letting meat rot in our fridges.  We throw away approximately 1 million chickens a day. But that’s the topic for another post. 

 

Sources:

http://advocacy.britannica.com

http://chicken.ca/on-the-farm/from_the_farm_to_you/understanding-your-choices/

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