But activists from Big Ben to the Silicon Valley are squawking
LAS VEGAS, Nevada––Representing the chicken meat industry, the National Chicken Council on January 31, 2024 hitched a ride on Super Bowl hype by publicizing that football viewers would eat 1.45 billion chicken wings during the February 11, 2024 championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Practically immediately an unidentified wag produced a meme pointing out that, “725 million chickens had to die to provide wings for Super Bowl LVIII.”
Though the chickens lost their wings and their lives, the meme had wings enough to fly repeatedly around the world long before any chicken wings were consumed on so-called Super Sunday.
“Corporations are no longer beholden to the same moral code I grew up with.”
The poultry industry, if capable of embarrassment, might also have been embarrassed on the eve of Super Sunday by San Jose Mercury News and East Bay Express guest columnist Crystal Heath, representing Our Honor, an organization of veterinarians opposed to factory farming.
“Growing up in Northern California’s rural agriculture country, like all kids in my neighborhood, I was a member of 4-H,” Heath recounted.
“One of the most important lessons we learned was that good animal stewardship meant providing your animals with food, water, shelter, a life worth living, and a quick and painless death.”
However, Heath continued, “Corporations are no longer beholden to the same moral code I grew up with.
“Bird flu has brought poultry industry sociopathy to light”
“High pathogenic avian influenza has brought the modern industry’s sociopathy to light,” Heath charged.
“Recently, a Petaluma cage-free egg producer, known for touting their high welfare practices, resorted to ending the lives of their birds by sealing up in buildings and pumping in heat until the birds inside eventually died of heatstroke, in a process known as ventilation shutdown plus (VSD+). It is as bad as it sounds.”
The “Petaluma cage-free egg producer” was Sunrise Farms, one of the many places where Direct Action Everywhere founder and Simple Heart blogger Wayne Hsiung has been arrested for leading an “open rescue” protest.
Factory farmers object that “open rescue” protests, in which members of the public invade barns to remove injured and ill animals, threaten biosecurity.
Yet such protests are directed at the very conditions that make high pathogenic avian influenza, most often the H5N1 variant, such a threat that whole flocks are killed to try to keep it from spreading.
And so far, in several decades of sporadic “open rescue” protests worldwide, not one H5N1 outbreak has been linked to protesters, in contrast to hundreds linked to cockfighting and many more to routine poultry industry practices.
The rich get richer making chickens dead
“We bail out wealthy producers — whether we buy from their businesses or not,” objected Heath.
“Since 2022, more than $715 million has gone to bail out companies that lost birds to avian influenza,” Heath wrote, “including many that killed their birds using VSD+. Jennie-O Turkey Store received more than $85 million in bird flu bailout money while their parent company, Hormel Foods, recorded net sales surpassing $12.1 billion in 2023. Tyson Foods took more than $29 million while chief executive officer Donnie King received more than $13 million in compensation.
“The top 10 companies took over 41% of the total indemnity payments,” Heath alleged, while “many of them failed to put plans in place to use less cruel, American Veterinary Medical Association ‘preferred’ methods of ending the lives of their animals.”
Royal SPCA pledges to make chickens a focus in 200th anniversary year
While major mainstream U.S. animal advocacy organizations continue to say little or nothing on behalf of chickens, the Royal SPCA of Great Britain in January 2024 announced that improving the lives of chickens would be a focal campaign during the run-up to the 200th anniversary of the formation of the ancestral organization, the London SPCA, on October 16, 1824.
The London SPCA became the Royal SPCA upon receiving a royal charter from Queen Victoria in 1840.
Soon thereafter, in 1841, the Royal SPCA absorbed the Liverpool Society for the Suppression of Wanton Cruelty to Brute Animals, founded on October 25, 1809.
That means the 200th anniversary of the oldest part of the Royal SPCA came and went 15 years ago, but no matter; any excuse does for a party, even if the Brits do not celebrate the Super Bowl, with or without chicken wings and hot sauce.
“We slaughter about a billion chickens a year”
Many British do eat chickens, though.
“We slaughter about a billion chickens in the United Kingdom every year,” about 10% of the U.S. toll, Royal SPCA director of policy Emma Slawinski on January 6, 2024 told Guardian science editor Robin McKie.
“Yet we never see these creatures,” Slawinski said, “despite their vast numbers, because they are locked into incredibly cramped spaces. They are also genetically selected to grow incredibly quickly.
“We get through them at an extraordinary rate because they are bred to produce the maximum amount of meat in the fastest possible time.”
Because “factory-farmed chickens live absolutely horrible lives,” Slawisnki declared, “their suffering is the single biggest animal welfare issue facing the country at present.”
Royal SPCA has history of bungling campaigns on behalf of chickens
Emma Slawinski was still a schoolgirl when in 1996 the Royal SPCA introduced Freedom Food, the first humane certification program for farmed animal products and byproducts, now emulated by at least five organizations in the U.S. alone.
By 2007, “One in 20 farm animals in Britain was reared under the Freedom Food scheme,” according to Guardian consumer affairs correspondent Rebecca Smithers, but participating farms often went a year or more between inspections.
In consequence, Freedom Food was afflicted by one scandal after another. In November 2006, for example, three employees of a major egg company were arrested for allegedly mislabeling eggs from battery caged hens as “free-range.”
Inspectors never suspected mislabeling
The egg mislabeling scandal in particular undercut the Freedom Food premise that the RSPCA could monitor agribusiness closely enough to prevent bogus claims from eroding humane standards.
Millions of falsely labeled “free range” eggs from “free range” farms that never existed were marketed for years all over Britain, in direct competition with Freedom Food eggs, apparently without the Freedom Food inspectors ever suspecting anything was amiss.
When the fraud was detected, it was revealed by inside whistleblowers using routine ultraviolet light “candling,” or egg-sorting, which showed the grid pattern of the cages on the eggs’ shells.
Freedom Food evolved into RSPCA Assured. RSPCA Assured ran into scandal in December 2018 when television celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, after receiving an RSPCA gold medal for “work to improve farm animal welfare and championing higher welfare food,” turned out to be buying poultry from Creedy Carver, not an RSPCA Assured scheme member.
Described by Jane Dalton of The Independent as “a free range Devon farm where the birds have room to move and fresh grass,” Creedy Carver flunked the Royal SPCA Assured standards by raising chickens bred to grow exceptionally fast, but “fed a low-energy diet so they do not grow as fast as in factory farms,” Dalton reported.
That avoided having the chickens grow so rapidly that their legs could not support their weight, at apparent cost of feeling constantly hungry.
“It could be like feeding a growing child a suboptimal diet,” said Royal SPCA senior scientific officer Kate Parkes.
Emma Slawinski was then director of campaigns and communications for Compassion In World Farming.
The recently released Compassion In World Farming EggTrack 2023 report happily announced that 80% of the egg producers in the European Union have gone cage-free, as have 77% of egg producers in the United Kingdom, 73% of those in the U.S., and 57% of those in the Asia-
“France has banned the installation of new cages and all cage systems for hens are already banned in Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland,” summarized the industry periodical Poultry World. “Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia have enacted bans [on battery caging] that will come into force in the coming years. The U.S. is also making strides with bans on battery cages across 11 different states.”
All good, but Emma Slawinski meanwhile left Compassion In World Farming to join the Royal SPCA just in time to be left holding the egg basket when, as Poultry World summarized, “Anger over a number of new veranda and natural daylight requirements for free-range and barn members being proposed for adoption by the RSPCA Assured scheme has prompted a climbdown by the animal welfare charity.”
“Verandas,” for chickens, are a caging system that allows the cooped birds to wander outside close confinement into also closely confined quarters where they can experience some fresh air and sunshine.
“Two months after announcing new standards for laying hens, RSPCA Assured has extended the deadlines for compliance and rowed back on their requirement for verandas for free-range houses,” Poultry World said.
Peepholes are “natural daylight”
“The combination of providing both verandas and natural daylight is designed to significantly improve bird welfare, according to the charity,” said Poultry World, “as it will help reduce feather pecking and keel bone fractures – two of the most challenging welfare issues for hens in egg production.”
But the egg industry balked, so “The requirement for new free-range members or existing members carrying out a major refurbishment to install a veranda, originally announced in November 2023, has been removed.”
Verandas were supposed to have been added to both new and refurbished barns for egg-laying hens for May 2024, but this deadline has been pushed back to January 1, 2030.
RSPCA Assured farms were also supposed to provide “Additional natural daylight within the main laying house, corresponding to at least 3% of the total floor area,” by no later than January 1, 2031, but are no longer required to install windows by May 2023, and “peepholes can be counted towards the natural daylight allowance.”
“Show leadership & compassion”
Said Poultry World, “Around 70% of United Kingdom free-range farms are certified by RSPCA Assured, but the proportion of eggs actually marketed as such is much lower.”
Commented Mia Fernyhough, global animal welfare manager for The Humane League:
“The number of hens in cages is continuing to decline and is proof that the U.K. pubic loathes these cruel systems of confinement.
“However, without a ban this steady decline could peter out, leaving millions of hens trapped in cages. The government must show leadership and compassion by stamping out cruel cages with an outright ban.”
Legal Impact for Chickens
Back in the U.S., Legal Impact for Chickens president Alene Anello emailed to ANIMALS 24-7, on January 30, 2024 “filed a notice of appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals challenging the dismissal of its lawsuit against Case Farms, one of the country’s largest poultry producers.”
ANIMALS 24-7 described the lawsuit on June 6, 2023, predicting it would probably be dead on arrival before a judge, since North Carolina law Article 47, Cruelty to Animals, § 14-360, section 2A, states an exemption for “Lawful activities conducted for the primary purpose of providing food for human or animal consumption.”
“The lawsuit, filed in May 2023,” continued Anello, “alleges that Case Farms violates North Carolina’s cruelty laws by causing chicks unjustifiable pain and suffering at its Morganton, North Carolina hatchery.
“Unjustifiable pain & suffering”
“Legal Impact for Chickens accuses Case Farms of a pattern of gross mismanagement and cruelty in violation of North Carolina law,” specifically by “knowingly operating faulty equipment, including a machine piston which repeatedly smashes chicks to death and a dangerous metal conveyor belt which traps and kills young birds. Case Farms was also documented crushing chicks’ necks between heavy plastic trays.
“Legal Impact for Chickens believes that the North Carolina Court of Appeals will agree that Case Farms is not immune from the cruelty law and cannot escape liability for its behavior,” Anello said.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals has not historically been favorable toward animal rights, however, for instance in a February 2012 case affirming that animals are property, of only material value.