Unpacking the Horrific Conditions of the American Poultry Industry

Imagine spending your whole life living in a small cage, packed on top of ten to twelve other cages filled with people, forced to wallow in your own filth, as well as the excrement of the other residents in your cage. You’re unable to move, denied access to medical care, and only taken out of this cage when it is time for you to be brutally killed either by having your throat slit or being boiled alive. Unfortunately, this is the sad fate of billions of chickens each year in the United States. To make matters worse, this practice is not only common, but there are virtually no laws in place to protect these highly intelligent and inquisitive animals from the living torture they are forced to endure prior to their premature death. For the most part, people either turn a blind eye to this atrocity or simply don't care. Therefore, each year, billions of chickens fall victim to this same grotesque and unbelievably cruel fate.

In nature, chickens are incredibly social animals who form friendships and develop social networks and hierarchies. They love and care for their offspring, groom and clean one another, make homes for their young, and roost in trees. Sadly, chickens raised for eggs and meat are denied all of these natural activities and are forced to suppress their innate instincts, adding an emotional element to their physical torture. Chickens raised for meat (referred to as broilers) are forced to live in huge, ammonia ridden, windowless, unsanitary sheds. They are only exposed to artificial lighting, which is used to encourage them to eat mass quantities of food to fatten them up as quickly as possible. Moreover, they are genetically selected and pumped full of growth hormones to ensure that they become as large as possible. As a result of this highly unnatural feeding process and the hormonal injections, broilers develop horrific skeletal problems. Their legs are unable to support their weight and many die from ascites – a highly painful disease that is caused when a bird’s heart and lungs are unable to keep up with its sudden growth – or broken legs that are unable to support their massive and unnatural weights.

Approximately 300 million hens are raised each year for their eggs in the United States. Most of these animals spend their lives in battery cages. These cages are stacked one on top of the other, so that feces and urine falls from one cage to the next. The wire mesh of the battery cages is harsh to the touch and rubs off the bird’s feathers, tears their skin, and causes their feet to become deformed and crippled. When male chicks are born, they are killed immediately using a macerator (a high-speed grinder), because they are deemed worthless to the egg industry. Hens suffer from osteoporosis starting at a very young age because they are forced to produce mass quantities of eggs, year round. As a result, they are susceptible to broken bones which go untreated or medicated.

The natural life expectance for chickens is around ten years; however, hens raised for egg production are usually unable to produce for more than a year or two. Therefore, millions of hens are killed each year at slaughterhouses once they loose their worth. Both broilers and egg hens endure a grueling and painful trip to the slaughterhouse. First, they are roughly caught by workers and forced into tightly packed crates. Broken bones and beaks are common during this process. Once they are placed into crates, they are transported to slaughterhouses in extremely hot trucks with no ventilation. They are denied water or food. They are then dumped from their crates and hung upside down in shackles. This further puts stress on their legs, which are already crippled, tender, and oftentimes broken. Their throats are sliced open by a machine and, subsequently, they are thrown (oftentimes alive) into a pot of boiling water. From the time they are born until the time they die, they are forced to live with and endure, horrendous pain.

It seems unimaginable that this type of animal abuse would happen in a supposedly civilized nation. However, these barbaric practices have become common and little to nothing is being done to change them. All of the major poultry companies have lobbyists that buy politicians’ votes. Therefore, laws are not even considered, let alone passed, to stop this horrific practice from transpiring. Unless this system of buying politicians’ votes can be stopped, it’s likely that each year, billions of chickens will suffer the same, terrible, fate.

As an individual, you can help by buying from local farmers markets, raising your own chickens for eggs and meat, or simply choosing to buy free range from your supermarkets. It may feel like you as an individual may be powerless, however, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world”; a change can only happen if everyone works together.

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