By Karen Davis, PhD.,
president, United Poultry Concerns
In “How chicken became the rich world’s most popular meat,” The Economist reported on January 19, 2019 that “the total mass of farmed chickens exceeds that of all other birds on the planet combined.”
This startling news comprises 1) The unimaginable number and size of chickens suffering for food worldwide and 2) The disappearance of wild birds from the world.
As the prison population of chickens grows, the number of birds living free declines. The dwindling population of free birds includes the chicken’s tropical forest ancestor and wild relative, the jungle fowl, whose habitat is being destroyed acre by acre, in part to grow soybeans for industrialized chickens.
Rachel Carson remembered
In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson opens chapter 8, “And No Birds Sing,” with the observation that:
Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song. This sudden silencing of the song of birds, this obliteration of the color and beauty and interest they lend to our world, has come about swiftly, insidiously, and unnoticed by those whose communities are as yet unaffected.
Silent Spring documents the effects of industrial chemicals on the planet and the reckless and careless conduct of human beings, of which this chemical catastrophe is a prime example. When it first appeared in 1962, the book was ridiculed and dismissed by corporate interests; but even after Silent Spring was hailed, grudgingly or gratefully, for its accuracy and justifiable urgency, nothing really changed. Half a century later, wild animals are being harmed and killed every day by pharmaceutical waste, plastics, poisons, and the aggregating crises of global heating.
Mars & the Moon
Even so, more taxpayer dollars will probably be spent on trips to Mars and the moon than will ever be spent caring for the Earth and its creatures. Just last week, an MSNBC show host rhapsodized over a renovated space program. Listening, I wondered – If he knew how his fellow earthling chickens are mired in misery and filth in metal sheds out of hell for his food – would he care?
Something I learned about chickens when I started knowing them decades ago is how vocally charged they are from morning to night. All day long I hear their voices outside ringing and singing. Since we built our predator-proof outdoor aviary in 2014, so that our roosters and hens could perch safely in the bushes and trees if they liked, I have felt the true sense of their vocal exuberance and how utterly their voices express their vitality. Their comical commotion each evening as they rustle around in the branches and leaves before settling down for the night evokes the tropical forest in which they evolved and the primal chords in the heart of each bird.
Not a peep or a rustle
By contrast, if you open the door of a Tyson or Perdue chicken house after the newborns have been there a week or so, you will not hear a peep or a rustle. If you enter a facility where hens have been caged for eggs a few months, the sound of silence will strike you more forcibly than commotion. Of all the indicators of their suffering, the sound of thousands of chickens together, mute and unmoving, is the eeriest, most audible signal that something is wrong.
In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson writes: “From all over the world come echoes of the peril that faces birds in our modern world.” I hope that her elegiac plea for attention and action for the birds included a thought for the chickens who, at that very time, were being taken from the land and put in concentration camps. There are now more chickens in those hopeless places than there are birds in the sky.
May is International Respect For Chickens Month. If you are not yet vegan, now is the time. Choosing to be vegan is a much bigger move for the betterment of “mankind” than flying to the moon or cultivating Mars. www.upc-online.org/recipes
How chicken became the rich world’s most popular meat
40 Percent of Bird Populations Are Declining
Pharmaceuticals in the environment: a growing problem
Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses
KAREN DAVIS, PhD is president and founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl, including operating a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia.
Silent Spring did change quite a lot, just not enough. As the book which, more than any other, launched the late 20th century environmental movement, Silent Spring moved environmental news coverage as such to page one in newspapers and the top of the news on television. Previously, environmental reporting tended to be buried toward the bottom of disaster coverage, or in “outdoor” coverage focused on expanding hunting, fishing, and trapping opportunities.
Silent Spring also led directly to the replacement of almost all of the first generation sprayed chemical pesticides, such as DDT and lead arsenate, with others believed at the time to be safer for both animals and humans, notably the carbamate chemical family and 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, and others in that chemical class. Later, as the risks of these pesticides became evident, they in turn were replaced or updated with safer variants.
What did not change, though, was the age-old idea that humans can somehow kill our way to heaven on earth.
Incidentally, while much has been written and said about the budget cuts afflicting the U.S. space program since the 1969 moon landing, the 2019 NASA budget of $21.5 billion is still more than triple the Environmental Protection Agency budget of just $6.1 billion.
Karen Davis, PhD author says
Thank you for publishing my article on the silence of the birds. When we consider the fate of birds in the world, let us not forget that chickens and turkeys and all of the animals we have taken off the land and out of the water and sky, and who wake up each morning in the bewildering misery of OUR making – let us not forget that they remain wild at heart and that if circumstances allowed, they would express their natural selves, however submerged in the false, anthropomorphic identities inflicted by humans. Right now they are at the mercy of what agribusiness calls “human-controlled evolution.” Hopefully, the day awaits when they will rise up singing and reclaim their birthrights and their Earth Rights.
Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns http://www.upc-online.org
Susan McDonough says
We humans are destroying the planet. If I had one wish it would be that we no longer had the ability to reproduce.
Bill Crain says
This is an wonderful article. At our farm sanctuary in upstate New York, we also are invigorated by the exuberant sounds of roosters and hens. It sometimes feels like they are saying, “It’s great to be alive!” I did not know that these birds are silent in the factory farms. Karen Davis continues to provide observations and insights for us to ponder.
Bill Crain, Co-founder, Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary.