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The Chicken Industry

Broiler Chickens

Virtually all chickens raised for their flesh (or “broiler chickens” as they are referred to by the meat industry), spend their lives crammed into massive, windowless sheds that typically hold as many as 40,000 birds each.

Chickens can function well in groups of up to about 90, a number low enough to allow each bird to find his or her spot in the pecking order. In crowded groups of thousands, however, no such social order is possible, and in their frustration, they relentlessly peck at each other, causing injury and death.

The intense confinement and extreme crowding on factory farms also results in unimaginable filth and disease. A Washington Post writer who visited a chicken shed said that the “dust, feathers and ammonia choke the air in the chicken house and fans turn it into airborne sandpaper, rubbing skin raw.”

Michael Specter, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, also visited a chicken shed and wrote, “I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs, and I could neither see nor breathe …. There must have been 30,000 chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of me. They didn’t move, didn’t cluck. They were almost like statues of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend every minute of their six-week lives that way.”

These journalists could leave, but chickens are forced to breathe ammonia and particulate matter from feces and feathers all day long. Many suffer from chronic respiratory diseases, weakened immune systems, bronchitis, and “ammonia burn,” a painful eye condition.

A 2006 study by Consumer Reports found that a staggering 83 percent of grocery market chickens it tested were infected with either campylobacter or salmonella bacteria or both.The extremely high prevalence of dangerous contaminants in chicken flesh is due largely to the filthy conditions in the sheds where they are raised. On factory farms, they are fed large quantities of powerful antibiotics to keep them alive in conditions that would otherwise kill them: Chickens are given nearly four times the amount of antibiotics as human beings or cattle in the United States.

Chickens are also genetically manipulated and regularly dosed with drugs to make them grow faster and larger. The average breast of an 8-week-old chicken is seven times heavier today than it was 25 years ago. Because of this unnaturally accelerated weight gain, these very young birds frequently die of heart attacks and lung collapse, something that would almost never happen in nature. According to Feedstuffs, a meat-industry magazine, “Broilers now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses.”

In addition, chickens on today’s factory farms almost always become crippled because their legs cannot support the weight of their bodies. In fact, by the age of 6 weeks, 90 percent of broiler chickens are so obese that they can no longer walk. Many crippled chickens on factory farms die when they can no longer reach the water nozzles.

Breeder Chickens

The breeding animals who give birth to the over 7 billion broiler chickens killed in the U.S. each year have been referred to as Gallus neglectedus, or “neglected chicken,” by Dr. Joy Mench, a poultry scientist at the University of California, because their welfare is completely ignored.

Like the broiler chickens to whom they give birth, breeder chickens are confined to filthy sheds without access to sunlight, fresh air, or anything else that they would enjoy in nature.

When these birds are very young—usually just 1 to 10 days old—hot blades are used to cut large chunks off their sensitive beaks so that they won’t peck each other out of frustration caused by the intense confinement. Sometimes their toes, spurs, and combs are also cut off. The birds are not given any painkillers to ease the agony of this mutilation, and many debeaked chickens starve to death because they are in too much pain to eat.

Breeder chickens are forced to live on factory farms for more than a year. Because they live so much longer, they face an even higher risk of organ failure and death as they grow larger and larger because of their manipulated genetics. In an attempt to fix this problem, the industry drastically limits the feed given to breeding birds, keeping the animals in a constant state of hunger and frustration.

When the birds drink more water to try to relieve their hunger, factory farm operators often reduce the available drinking water so that they won’t have to clean up wet manure.

Some farmers shove thin plastic rods through the delicate nasal cavities of male breeding birds. The rods stick out of both sides of their faces, preventing them from reaching through the wire barrier to eat the females’ food.

After more than a year of deprivation and confinement, the bodies of these breeding birds are too worn out to produce enough chicks for the farmer to sell. Frail and exhausted, they are loaded onto trucks and sent to slaughter.

In addition to the inexcusable treatment of chickens on factory farms, it’s also bad for your health to eat these abused animals. According to a major 2006 Harvard study of 135,000 people, those who frequently ate grilled, skinless chicken had a 52 percent higher chance of developing bladder cancer than those who didn’t.

Take PETA’s Pledge to be Vegan for 30 Days and eliminate meat and other animal products from your diet today. After just a month, many people report feeling healthier and more energetic. Most of all, it means saving animals from cruelty.