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May 2005
Vegetarian Advocate: A Better Death, Courtesy of McDonald’s?

By Jack Rosenberger

For the foreseeable future, more than 8.7 billion chickens will be slaughtered for their flesh in the U.S. each year. Unless an easily transmitted avian virus decimates the poultry industry, the mass killing of chickens will continue unabated in this country, day in and day out. This orgy of grotesque violence and inhumanity is as inevitable as the Earth revolving around the sun, spilled soymilk and scraped knees, and the Republican party’s mean-spirited social policies.

Not only are billions of chickens slaughtered each year, but the last hours of most chickens’ lives are absolute misery, fear and torture. However, the circumstances of how chickens are slaughtered in America could be greatly improved—with your help.

Currently, most farmed chickens are trucked to a slaughterhouse, where they are dumped on a conveyor belt which transports them to a room where they are hung upside down on a line of shackles—a disorienting and stressful experience. The struggling birds are then transported to a stunning area, where they are meant to be submerged in an electrically charged bath of water, the aim of which is to render them unconscious. Unfortunately, some are not shocked due to variables between individual birds—such as different weights or leg sizes—or because some frightened birds flap their wings or lift their head, thus avoiding the stun bath. These unfortunate birds are fully conscious when the shackle line brings them to an automated spinning blade, the purpose of which is to slice open their throats.

In 2002, an estimated 8,716,099,000 chickens were slaughtered in the U.S. Of those birds, up to 175 million avoided the stun bath and were completely conscious when their throats were slit—roughly two percent. Each year, an estimated 3.7 million or more birds manage to avoid both the electrically charged stun bath and the automated spinning blade. Such is the will to live.

A tank of scalding water is the next destination after the automated spinning blade. The scald tank’s purpose is to make feather removal easier. The 3.7 million birds who avoid the stun bath and the automated spinning blade cannot avoid the scald tank; they are either drowned or scalded to death.

Did Somebody Say McSlaughter?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is pressuring McDonald’s, one of the country’s largest purchasers of chicken flesh, to require its chicken suppliers to adopt controlled atmosphere killing, a USDA-approved method of slaughter in which the birds are killed prior to shackling. In controlled atmosphere killing, the chickens are exposed to a mixture of nitrogen and argon, with less than two percent residual oxygen, while in their transport containers. The gases are inert, which means the birds cannot smell or taste them, and are breathed undetected by the birds, who lose consciousness and die from a lack of oxygen, sparing the chickens from much of the pain and cruelty associated with the slaughter process.

Controlled atmosphere killing is used in poultry plants in the European Union and Canada, our socially and politically more progressive neighbor to the north. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved the use of inert gases as a method of slaughtering poultry more than five years ago.

After PETA submitted a shareholder proposal, this past December McDonald’s agreed to prepare a feasibility study about its chicken suppliers switching over to controlled atmosphere killing.

While study results are expected this June, so far, McDonald’s reaction has been uninspiring. McDonald’s senior director of social responsibility Robert Langert has told the press, “It’s a fairly new method...there is some use of it in Europe, but not yet in North America, so we want to know more about it” and “There has been very little study of this process as to impact on animal welfare.”

McDonald’s is the second-largest buyer of chicken flesh in the world. If it required chicken slaughterers to switch to controlled atmosphere killing, countless birds would benefit.

Write: James A. Skinner, CEO, McDonald’s Corporation, McDonald’s Plaza, Oak Brook, IL 60523; 630-623-3000 (phone); 630-623-5004 (fax).

Help, I’m a Carnivore!
As a vegetarian, it would be irresponsible of me not to comment on Frank Perdue’s death in March or the laudatory obituaries which failed to acknowledge that Perdue’s livelihood involved enormous animal pain, suffering and death. For the purposes of this column, I will offer some comments on the lengthy and euphemistic obituaries that appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Yet, I am not sure how much I am commenting on Frank Perdue and how much I am commenting on humankind in general.

A little perspective: Frank Perdue was responsible for the breeding, enslavement and killing of billions of chickens and turkeys during his lifetime. Perdue’s career as a “chicken merchant” started when he was a boy, for his father, Arthur, launched a chicken business in 1920, the same year Frank was born. In 1952, when Frank became the president of Perdue Farms, the company had revenues of $6 million. Last year Perdue Farms’ revenues were $2.8 billion.

One of Perdue’s innovations was the branding of chicken meat through the use of ad campaigns, starting in the 1970s, that made Perdue one of the most recognized brands in America and, as the Times noted, “the first nationally recognized brand of chicken.”

As the Times quipped: “Among the famous [ad] lines: ‘My chickens eat better than you do.’” (Replace the word “lines” with “lies” and I think we’ve reached the truth of the matter.)

In addition, Perdue was responsible for the introduction of factory farming in the poultry industry. The Times reported: “The Perdue innovations in production, marketing and advertising were imitated in the poultry business and contributed to its consolidation. After the chickens were hatched at the Perdue Farms, they were sent to hundreds of contract farms to be raised. At one time, at the Country Time farm in Salisbury [MD], one farmer tended two cavernous houses, each holding 30,000 chickens. Everything was automated, and lights burned 22 hours a day to keep the birds eating. After seven weeks of feeding, the birds, having grown to eight pounds, went to Perdue’s processing plants.” “Processing plant,” of course, is a euphemism for slaughterhouse.

Euphemism is also apparent in the photograph of Perdue in his Times obituary. The photo shows Perdue in a slaughterhouse with a row of upside down shackled chickens in the background. The caption reads: “Frank Perdue and his product.” A more honest caption: “Frank Perdue and some of the millions of chickens killed each year in his slaughterhouses.”

The Washington Post found that the ethical issues, from an animal rights perspective, surrounding Perdue’s murderous business merited a mere two sentences: “He also was a frequent target of animal rights activists opposed to factory farming. In 1992, a woman dressed in a chicken suit hurled a cream pie in his face.”

In both obituaries, the chicken and turkey victims are nearly absent, their existence reduced to abstract words like “pounds” and “product.” “Today,” the Times reported, “the privately held company [Perdue] sells more than 48 million pounds of chicken products and nearly four million pounds of turkey products a week.” The Post was even more concise: “It processes 52 million pounds of chicken and turkey each week.”

The chickens and turkeys themselves—the once living, beautiful beings—are invisible.



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