Picture in your mind a farm chicken -- the kind bred to be eaten. Can you see it? Maybe the image comes from a movie or a children's book, or from Old MacDonald's idyllic and fictional ranch. But if you think that image is similar to the actual chickens bred and raised for production and eventual distribution to your supermarket, think again.
Think something far more horrible.
The sad truth about today's chickens -- nearly 9 billion of which are slaughtered annually in America -- not only confirms our worst fears, but raises all-new concerns about their welfare... and our health. And in case you're wondering, the FDA and USDA are way off the case.
Here are eight truths you should know if you care about what's on America's plate:
- Modern chickens are selectively bred to grow so large, so fast, that they struggle to simply move or stand. Even at just a few weeks old, they have such massive and disproportionate bodies that they often collapse. See some of these chickens.
- In this practice of speed-breeding, chickens go from hatchling to slaughter in as little as 42 days -- a growth rate three times faster than 60 years ago. The University of Arkansas notes that if humans grew at a similar rate, a 6.6 lb newborn baby would weigh 660 lbs after two months.
- Many of these chickens spend most of their lives lying helplessly in their own waste, often with open sores and infections.
- The unnatural growth rate strains chickens' hearts, lungs and bones. Read some farmers' criticism of the process and its effect on their chickens.
- Many chickens raised this way can still be labeled "organic" or "free range."
- Chickens bred and raised this way could pose a danger to our health. In its "Risky Meat" report, the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that, between 1998 and 2010, chicken caused more outbreaks and illnesses than any other meat in the American food supply. A 2010 Consumer Reports analysis of fresh, whole chicken bought at stores nationwide found that two-thirds harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease.
- Much of the bacteria found on chicken was antibiotic-resistant -- a result of the industry's practice of routinely feeding chickens antibiotics to make up for their compromised immunity due to unnatural growth rates and unsanitary conditions.
- Of the three federal laws that govern how farm animals are treated, all exclude birds. And while USDA inspectors oversee federal slaughterhouses, neither the USDA nor the FDA is required to send inspectors to farms.
Because we're dedicated to stopping animal cruelty and abuse, and care about your health, the ASPCA is calling on the chicken industry to do better -- but we need your help getting their attention.
We need to show the industry that even people who buy their product and rely on them to do the right thing care about how chickens are raised. That's why I'm proud to share news of our new campaign: The Truth About Chicken. At this time, the ASPCA is the only large-scale U.S. animal protection group working specifically to improve the lives of chickens raised for meat.
Stay updated, sign our petition, keep track of the campaign's progress, and take action by visiting TruthAboutChicken.org and spreading these Eight Truths to friends, family, and colleagues. Talk about the issue of chicken breeding and welfare with managers at your local supermarket. Tell them how important it is to you that chickens are both bred and raised without cruelty.
Regardless of what you consume, it's time for us all to 'think again' about chicken. Because if we don't, clearly no one else will.
Matthew Bershadker is President & CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Learn more about the ASPCA's mission and programs at ASPCA.org.