The Frontal Cortex

Chickens in Pain

Daniel Zwerdling has an excellent article on the chicken slaughter industry in the latest Gourmet. I had no idea that Americans consumed more than 9 billion broiler chickens every year. Or that, thanks to newfangled forms of feed, it only takes a broiler chicken six weeks to reach market weight. (In the 1950′s, it took more than seventeen weeks.) Unfortunately, this fast growth has terrible side-effects. As Zwerdling writes:

Animal behavior scientists have devised studies to gauge pain from a bird’s point of view. The research has found, for instance, that starting in the sheds, the chickens balloon in weight so fast that their baby skeletons can’t support it well: among other problems, their tendons slip and their leg bones twist, making a large proportion of commercial broilers partially or completely lame.

But is a limping chicken necessarily in pain? Back in the late 1990′s, Claire Weeks and her colleagues at the University of Bristol divided 120 broilers into two groups – those that were lame and those that walked normally. They then offered both groups two kinds of food – regular feed, and the same feed spiked with an anti-inflammatory painkiller known as carprofen. The lame birds ate up to 50 percent more drugged feed than the normal ones. And the more drugged feed they ate, the better they walked. “That suggests,” says Weeks, “that the lame birds were self-medicating because they were in pain.”

It gets even more depressing when you contemplate the ways we kill these lame baby chickens. According to industry guidelines, up to 0.6 percent of chickens are allowed to die on the transporting trucks, usually from being jammed in too tight or from extreme temperatures. Up to 10 percent of all chickens can be injured en route to the slaughterhouse, which usually means a broken or dislocated wing. And a significant percentage of birds aren’t rendered unconscious by the preceding electric shock, which means that they are alert when decapitated.

But Zwerdling explains that there’s a better way to slaughter poultry. A massive poultry producer in Oslo has revolutionized the slaughterhouse. Instead of being hung upside down and then zapped by electricity, the chickens are kept in their individual crates (they aren’t overstuffed), and ushered calmly into a gas chamber that quickly renders them unconscious. (The gas isn’t toxic. The oxygen is simply replaced by a neutral gas like nitrogen.) Leading behavioral scientists have declared that this gas system “is the most stress-free, humane method of killing poultry yet developed.” Even PETA supports it.

Unfortunately, KFC – which purchases more than 850 million chickens per year – hasn’t endorsed the new slaughterhouse method. Burger King, on the other hand, has said that it will favor suppliers who use this new method. While I enjoy KFC’s biscuits, and have a soft spot for their extra-crispy chicken, I refuse to support a company that is so unwilling to take minimal steps to reduce animal suffering. KFC has lost my business.

Comments

  1. #1 cephyn
    May 21, 2007

    While I’m all for eliminating animal cruelty, I prefer to focus on cruelty to pets. For food animals – well, they’re always gonna end up dead. If you’re really serious about it, go vegetarian.

    Just seems odd to me that the goal here is “kill them so nicely they don’t even know they’re going to die” – isn’t suffocation (which is what happens if you replace the oxygen in a room with nitrogen) a pretty crummy way to go too? Wouldn’t decapitation be faster?

  2. #2 Arjibuh
    May 21, 2007

    The reason is because the animals put out hormones and other chemicals, like adrenaline, when killed, which is harmful to us. Also, have you ever tried to decapitate a chicken? Doesn’t work to well, they don’t die right away. Putting them to sleep is the best way to do it.

  3. #3 eldritch2k4
    May 21, 2007

    I agree with the top post. Cruelty to animals is bad, but killing an animal that is, essentially, a food product in a “humane” manner is sort of a waste to me. I don’t think they should be beaten while being grown, but when it comes to slaughter, just kill them. In the fastest way possible…like decapitation.

    As far as the adrenaline output at death, the amount of adrenaline released by a dying chicken is hardly enough to cause injury to a human. We put out more adrenaline when we stub our toes (exaggeration) than a chicken does upon death. And yes, I have seen a chicken decapitated. They do die rather quickly, if done right; however, they can exhibit a nerve reflex for quite some time after death, much like an insect that has been exposed to heat.

  4. #4 Knocko
    May 21, 2007

    I’ve decapitated chickens before…trust me…they don’t die quick. That’s definitely not the way to go…plus, their muscle tighten up releasing chemicals that make them not very palatable…the best you can do with the meat at the point and still taste good is soup or stew.

  5. #5 frank habets
    May 21, 2007

    Dear Mr. Cortex

    I’ve submitted your entry to http://www.fark.com, and you may get a kick out of some of the comments.

    http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=2816199

  6. #6 Grant Mason
    May 21, 2007

    As a student of Poultry Science, I feel that your opinion related to the slaughter of chickens is unfounded and misinformed. This company in Oslo is not a large company and is marketing to what is in effect, a niche market. Most Americans are not as concerned with the welfare of thier food, as you are. I agree that animals deserve to be treated humanely and ethically. Your opinion sir, fails to take into account the added expense involved in processing birds in your preferred manner. Also, there are not many companies in the U.S. using this slaughtering method and they could not supple enough chicken to meet the demands of an industry leader like KFC. Its a great idea, but you need to do a little more research before writing.

  7. #7 AR
    May 22, 2007

    I would like to address the point about asphixiation being unpleasant, as this shows a common point of ignorance. The urge to breath is NOT triggered by lack of oxygen, but by the presence of excessive carbon dioxide. See this article on nitrogen asphyxiation as a form of capitol punishment.

  8. #8 Protoss Lord
    May 22, 2007

    Isn’t a Zwerdling one of those things from StarCraft?

  9. #9 Tim
    May 22, 2007

    What I really want to know… does this new method of slaughtering the birds makes them tastier?

  10. #10 John
    May 22, 2007

    EU expert opinion on gas stunning methods:
    http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/scah/out08_en.html

    >there’s a better way to slaughter poultry. A massive poultry producer in Oslo

    The country of Norway processed about 8 million chickens in 2003. That’s about 0.1% of U.S. production, or about 1.5 months of operation for a typical processing plant in the U.S.

    >has revolutionized the slaughterhouse.

    Gas stunning is not new.

    >Instead of being hung upside down and then zapped by electricity, the chickens are kept in their individual crates (they aren’t overstuffed), and ushered calmly into a gas chamber that quickly renders them unconscious.

    Many gas combinations do not render the birds unconscious quickly. Many studies report aversive reactions to the gas mixture.

    >(The gas isn’t toxic. The oxygen is simply replaced by a neutral gas like nitrogen.)

    Most of the mixtures contain high levels of CO2. The ref above discusses a mixture with 80% CO2.

    >Leading behavioral scientists have declared that this gas system “is the most stress-free, humane method of killing poultry yet developed.”

    EU regulations require “stunning to kill,” so Europe uses a high level of current that kills the birds. The high current breaks bones, tears muscles, and causes small hemorrhages, although the birds are unconscious at the time. European studies comparing electrical and gas stunning compared high current stunning with gas stunning and found that gas stunning produced much less bone breakage and tissue damage. Many of the experts are basing their “more humane” opinions on those studies, but low-current electrical stunning (used in most of the world) also causes less bone and soft tissue damage than EU electrical stunning. The comparative studies aren’t applicable to electrical stunning outside Europe.

    >Even PETA supports it.

    PETA is opposed to animal exploitation such as having a pet. PETA is probably in favor of anything that will make eating animals more expensive.

    >Unfortunately, KFC – which purchases more than 850 million chickens per year

    Norway times 100.

    >hasn’t endorsed the new slaughterhouse method. Burger King, on the other hand, has said that it will favor suppliers who use this new method.

    How many suppliers use this not-new method and will be favored? Gas stunning in the U.S. is part of a high-price niche that exists because of marketing.

    >While I enjoy KFC’s biscuits, and have a soft spot for their extra-crispy chicken, I refuse to support a company that is so unwilling to take minimal steps to reduce animal suffering.

    You don’t know the whole story and PETA won’t tell you.

  11. #11 Lizzie
    May 28, 2007

    Jonah, I appreciate your post. As for your commenters- it is interesting to read the logic is being used to defend the status quo. Although they are probably not actually sadists or psychopaths, they are defending positions that justify horrendous suffering.

    Some used arguments in favor of arbitrary distinctions- ie- the suffering of pets apparently matters, but the suffering of food animals doesn’t. And another commenter (from the food industry) feels that keeping meat dirt cheap is more important than any considerations towards humane treatment. What kind of morality and ethics supports these points of view?

    I don’t understand why humane treatment, which yes, may cost a couple of extra cents per pound, is not a goal shared by all. The funny thing is, I actually think anyone (again, who’s not mentally ill) would be utterly horrified if they actually witnessed the suffering these food animals go through.

    Just as we euthanize pets (when needed) out of compassion, it seems clear that for food animals, a comfortable life and a minimally distressing slaughter is needed. It is a worthy goal to try to figure out how to provide this.

  12. #12 Nikhil
    June 9, 2007

    I totally agree with you Lizzie. These commercial giants think they can do anything with only focus in mind – make big money. What if these organizations make a little less profit by implementing something which is recommended and morally correct? Are they going to go bankrupt? Definitely not!!! But this agrressive urge of making big money no matter what, makes them insensitive to moral issues.

  13. #13 Brittany
    June 20, 2010

    I have pet chickens, and the way that these big companies just slaughter chickens (or cows, pigs, or horses, whatever) just horrifies me. I like this new way some people are doing, I think it’s much more humane. Besides, like Knocko said, their muscles tighten up when they’re about to be decapitated, gassing them probably would make them not tighten up so bad, making better meat. Though once rigamortis set in I don’t know how much of a difference it will make…

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    August 11, 2011

    Perdonen, he pensado y ha quitado la pregunta
    http://www.elcoru.com/
    Ivan

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