Poultry: A Bird's Life
With a growing number of consumers switching from red meat to poultry, the chicken and turkey industries are booming. In addition to selling a growing quantity of chicken and turkey meat to consumers in the U.S., companies that sell the meat are also benefiting from expanding markets around the world.
Record numbers of chickens and turkeys are being raised and killed for meat. Nearly ten billion chickens, and half a billion turkeys, are being hatched in the U.S. every year. These birds are typically crowded by the thousand into huge factory-like warehouses where they can barely move. Chickens are given less than half a square foot of space per bird while turkeys are each given less than three square feet. Both chickens and turkeys have the ends of their beaks cut off, and turkeys also have their toes clipped. All of these mutilations are performed without anesthesia, and are done in order to reduce injuries which result when stressed birds are driven to fighting.
Today's "broiler" chickens, who are raised for meat, have been genetically altered to grow twice as fast and twice as large as their ancestors. Pushed beyond their biological limits, hundreds of millions of chickens die every year before reaching slaughter weight at 6 to 7 weeks of age. To put it in perspective, according to a University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture report, "if you grew as fast as a chicken, you would weigh 349 pounds at age 2".
An industry journal explains "broilers [chickens] now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses." Modern broiler chickens also experience crippling leg disorders, as their legs are not capable of supporting their abnormally heavy bodies. Confined in unhealthy factory farms, the birds also succumb to heat prostration, infectious disease, and cancer.
Like broiler chickens, commercial turkeys also suffer from genetic manipulation. In addition to having been altered to grow fast and large, commercial turkeys have been anatomically manipulated to have large breasts to meet consumer demand for breast meat. As a result, turkeys cannot mount and reproduce naturally, and so their sole means of reproduction is artificial insemination. Like broiler chickens, turkeys are susceptible to heart disease, and their legs have difficulty supporting their overweight bodies. An industry journal laments "...turkeys have been bred to grow faster and heavier but their skeletons haven't kept pace, which causes 'cowboy legs'. Commonly, the turkeys have problems standing and fall and are trampled on or seek refuge under feeders, leading to bruises and downgradings as well as culled or killed birds."
Chickens and turkeys are taken to the slaughterhouse in crates stacked on the back of trucks. The birds are either pulled from the crates, or the crates are lifted off the truck, often with a crane or forklift, and then the birds are dumped onto a conveyor belt. As the birds are unloaded, some fall onto the ground instead of landing on the assembly-line conveyor belt. Slaughterhouse workers intent upon 'processing' thousands of birds every hour have neither the time nor the inclination to pick up individuals who fall through the cracks. Sometimes the birds die after being crushed by machinery or vehicles operating near the unloading area, while in other cases, they may die of starvation or exposure after days without receiving their basic needs.
Once inside the slaughterhouse, fully conscious birds are hung by their feet from metal shackles on a moving rail. The first station on most poultry slaughterhouse assembly lines is the stunning tank, where the birds' heads are submerged in an electrified bath of water. Although birds are specifically excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act which requires stunning, the practice is common because it immobilizes the birds and expedites assembly line killing.
Stunning procedures are not monitored, and they are often inadequate. Slaughterhouses often set the electrical current lower than what is required to render the birds unconscious because of concerns that too much electricity would damage the carcass and diminish its value. The result is birds who are immobilized but are still capable of feeling pain or who emerge from the stunning tank while still fully conscious.
After passing through the stunning tank, the birds' throats are slashed, usually by a mechanical blade, and blood begins rushing out of their bodies. Inevitably, the blade misses some birds who then proceed to the next station on the assembly line: the scalding tank. Here they are submerged in boiling hot water. Birds missed by the killing blade are boiled alive. This occurs so commonly, affecting millions of birds every year, that the industry has a term for these birds. They are called "redskins". According to Virgil Butler, a former Tyson slaughterhouse worker, "When this happens, the chickens flop, scream, kick, and their eyeballs pop out of their heads. Then, they often come out the other end with broken bones and disfigured and missing body parts because they've struggled so much in the tank."
Some of this information is courtesy of Mercy For Animals.
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