Chicken Coop d'Etat
By Noah Masterson
AUGUST 30, 1999: Last month, at a Tyson chicken plant in Louisville, Ky., James A. Dame Jr. fell into a vat of chicken parts. In a rescue attempt, coworker Michael B. Hallum was lowered into the vat on a makeshift harness. Hallum was overcome by methane gas fumes and fell into the vat with Dame. Both men died.
According to the Louisville-based Courier-Journal, Hallum was 24 years old and about to be the father of twins. Dame was probably old and childless -- or maybe just ugly -- because the tragedy of his death didn't receive much attention.
The part of the factory in which the men were working was designated as a "protein recovery" area, where chicken parts are ground before they are shipped to makers of pet food.
Which brings me to an interesting, profound point: chicken plants are kind of gross.
Even the Tyson company -- which claims not to inject birds with hormones or keep birds in tiny cages -- still houses vats of chicken entrails large enough for a man to drown in. Other chicken plants are far nastier.
According to an article in Harper's, chicken is the fastest growing substitute for beef, which, due to health concerns, many Americans are cutting from their diets. To meet demand, factories are forced to increase their productivity -- by any means necessary.
Compared to chickens, cows have it pretty darn good. There are federal welfare laws regarding how cows are slaughtered. Not so for our feathered edibles, who aren't classified as "animals" by the U.S. government.
The life of an American chicken goes about like this: After they hatch, chickens intended for consumption are crowded into a warehouse with another thousand or so birds. Egg hens are crowded into 18-inch cages with several other chickens. This crowding makes the chickens mad, and they peck at each other -- sometimes to death. To prevent this, their beaks are removed with a hot iron. With no beaks, the chickens develop running sores on their faces. To prevent infection, the sores are treated with a barrage of antibiotics, which continues until they are fat enough to eat. Then the chickens are hung by their feet, and an automated pulley carries them to their death -- either by a machine that chops off their heads or by immersion in an electric shock tank. Sometimes chickens survive those procedures, and instead die in the "scald tank" that is used to loosen their feathers for plucking.
A friend of mine once remarked that chickens are dirty little animals that deserve to die. He might be right -- chickens are not bright animals, and they aren't winning any beauty contests. But consider this next tidbit:
The waste that factory chicken farming produces -- feathers, beaks, entrails and chicken poop -- is recyled: mixed into chicken feed.
Remember the recent furor about "mad cow disease"? Evidence suggested that mad cow disease was caused by the practice of feeding cow parts to cows. Thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey, whose TV show helped publicize this process, that's now illegal. But chickens are still allowed to eat chickens. (For that matter, cows are allowed to eat chickens, too.) This constitutes a largely unregulated, unresearched health risk. You might just fall victim to mad chicken disease.
What can you do? If you're going to eat chicken, do your damnedest to find out where the birds you buy come from. And the same goes for eggs.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 250 million of our egg-laying hens (98 percent) are factory-farmed -- raised in cages. Plus, a study conducted by those fun-loving jokers at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals revealed that because males don't lay eggs, and not all breeds are economical for meat consumption, egg-producing companies suffocate or grind alive an estimated 280 million newborn males a year. (The women in my life might agree with this policy, but you shouldn't.) Through starvation and genetic and chemical manipulation, the hens are forced to lay more than 10 times as many eggs as they would in the wild.
I was in the store just last week. I gritted my teeth and bought some organic, free-range eggs for $2.49. The cashier kindly pointed out that store-brand eggs were on sale for 40 cents a dozen. I still bought the free-range eggs. Much to my dismay, I later discovered that the eggs were not, in fact, made of gold.
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