“Evolved” Animal Farming
The effects of the “human controlled evolution” of chickens and other birds bred for the meat industry are described in an article in International Hatchery Practice. Andrew A. Olkowski, DVM and his colleagues state in “Trends in developmental anomalies in contemporary broiler chickens” that chickens with extra legs and wings, missing eyes and beak deformities “can be found in practically every broiler flock,” where “a variety of health problems involving muscular, digestive, cardiovascular, integumentary, skeletal, and immune systems” form a complex of debilitating diseases. Poultry personnel, they say, provide “solid evidence that anatomical anomalies have become deep-rooted in the phenotype of contemporary broiler chickens.”
An example is a breast muscle myopathy described in 2018 as a worldwide phenomenon. Called “wooden breast,” this condition manifests a manmade impairment in “broiler” chickens so severe that the birds’ breasts develop a hard wood-like texture involving necrosis, fibrosis, and macrophage infiltration relating to the cardiopulmonary system’s inability to supply capillary blood to the bird’s massively growing breast muscle, which as a result hardens and dies.
Ulcerative and necrotic diseases in agribusiness chickens are endemic. Femoral head necrosis occurs when the top of the leg bone disintegrates as a result of bacterial infection, oppressive body weight, and oxygen deficiency in the contaminated chicken houses that exacerbate the birds’ pre-existing pulmonary pathologies. Necrotic enteritis involving the bacterial agent Clostridium perfringens shows intestines swollen with gas, oozing putrid fluid, and full of ulcers. Gangrenous dermatitis, a skin disease, affects the legs, wings, breast, vent, abdomen and intestines of the birds as a result of toxins emitted by Clostridium perfringens in conjunction with exposure to immunosuppressive viruses in the chicken sheds.
Pain Without Pity
The idea of a past characterized by compassionate animal farming that could be revived and modernized in contrast to factory farming does not pass scrutiny. Industrialized animal production practices reflect the inveterate view that, as poultry researcher Joy Mench once told me in the comfort of her office, the basic premise of our relationship with “food” animals precludes ethics and empathy. It allows us to decide that morality does not apply to our use of these animals. Traditional animal husbandry practices support this nihilistic viewpoint.
A photograph of turkeys being “noodled” (force-fed) to increase the size and growth rates of their livers and bodies, appears in the March 1930 issue of the National Geographic, along with much else that helps to explain why a sixteenth-century observer wrote of animals raised for food: “They feed in pain, lie in pain, and sleep in pain.” Farmed animals live and die in lonely, relentless agony that even pain-relieving medication could not overcome. We may think that roasting a live bird in front of a fire and devouring her while she is dying is too cruel and savage for today’s world, but nothing could be further from the truth.
KAREN DAVIS, PhD is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, Karen is the author of numerous books, essays, articles and campaigns. Her latest book is For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation: Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl (Lantern Books, 2019).
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