Life on the farm isn’t very laid back

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1995:

Gandhi’s birthday, October 2, marks the 13th observance
of World Day for Farm Animals, declared in 1982 by the
Farm Animal Reform Movement. Unfortunately, despite steadily
increasing humane concern for farm animals, not much has
happened in the past 13 years to actually improve farm animals’
lives. There have been some victories, for example the abolition
of face-branding of imported cattle won in late 1994 by the
Coalition for Non-Violent Food, but factory farming has only
become more dominant in poultry and hog production.
Slaughtered in the U.S. each year are 7.2 billion chickens,
277 million turkeys, 88.5 million hogs, and 1.5 million
veal calves, more than 99% of whom never see the outdoors
except through slats in the sides of the truck that takes them to
their doom. The annual toll also includes 33 million cattle and
5.8 million sheep and lambs. Increasing numbers of dairy cattle
and so-called “milk-fed spring lamb,” raised in the equivalent of
veal crates, also never go outside.

The numbers are so staggering that American SPCA
president Roger Caras argued in the fall edition of A S P C A
Animal Watch that, “It would impede our progress toward a
kinder, gentler world if we seriously advocated an immediate or
total end to the food animal industry…The economies of food animal
states would be plunged into unprecedented depression and
unemployment…We would collapse as a world-class economy
Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Russia, Great Britain,
Canada, and a score of other nations also would collapse.”
The ASPCA posture is accordingly a cautious endorsement
of reduction, refinement, and replacement in theory while
in practice pushing only those changes, for example weak bills
to govern the treatment of non-ambulatory or “downer” cattle,
that the animal agriculture industry is already predisposed to
accept––partly because they don’t actually mandate major
change in standard operating procedure.
Actually, the normal cycle of capital replacement in
animal agriculture, barns excepted, is five to seven years,
meaning a transition to total global vegetarianism could probably
be accomplished that quickly without major economic
dislocation, if the various factors that farmers consider when
replacing or renovating equipment and facilities pointed
strongly enough toward raising grain and legumes for human
rather than animal consumption, toward dropping grazing
leases of public land, and toward converting feedlots, mostly
located close to industrial parks on the fringes of metropolitan
areas, to other forms of profitable development.
Neither human food choices nor farm practice are
going to change anywhere near that quickly––and they certainly
won’t when major humane societies equate a turn from
meat with the fall of western civilization.
But public opinion is nonetheless well ahead of the
ASPCA. According to a national telephone survey conducted
from August 17 through August 20 by the Opinion Research
Corporation for Animal Rights International, of 1,012 adults
questioned, 93% agreed that, “Animal pain and suffering
should be reduced as much as possible, even though the animals
are going to be slaughtered.”
Ninety-two percent either “somewhat disapprove”
or “strongly disapprove” of “confining pigs for their entire
lives in narrow metal stalls where they are unable to ever turn
around.” Ninety-two percent also either “somewhat disapprove”
or “strongly disapprove” of “confining veal calves for
their entire lives in narrow wooden stalls.” And 89% either
“somewhat disapprove” or “strongly disapprove” of “keeping
hens in cages so small that they are never able to stretch their
Further, 82% agreed that the meat and egg industries
should be held responsible for making sure farm animals
are protected from cruelty; 58% extended the same mandate
to fast food restaurants and supermarkets; and 64% endorsed
the idea that the USDA should “be involved in making sure
that farm animals are protected from cruelty.” Currently,
USDA livestock regulations are directed only at matters
involving food safety. Farm animals are covered by the
Animal Welfare Act only if they are used in laboratories.
To kill a chicken
Chicken production, the fastest growing sector of
animal agriculture for more than 15 years, perhaps most
egregiously violates the public sense of how animals ought to
be treated. The two major divisions of the chicken industry
are the raising and slaughter of broiler hens, and the raising,
keeping, and eventual disposal of layer hens.
In recent years U.S. broiler chicken slaughter has
numbered circa 6.5 billion per year, up from circa 3.9 billion
in 1980, now accounting for roughly 93% of all the animals
slaughtered for human consumption in the U.S.
Chickens, like other poultry, are not covered by the
Humane Slaughter Act. By contrast, the total slaughter of
mammals, covered since 1959, is barely 138 million.
The U.S. layer flock at the close of 1994 numbered
247 million, according to United Egg Producers, with a predicted
average flock size for 1995 of 245 million. To boost
egg prices, UEP recommended reducing the flock size to 235
million by July 1 of this year, via disposing of hens up to
seven weeks early instead of allowing them to go through one
molt, during which egg production drops before rising again
to a lesser but still profitable level through a second laying
cycle. A January 30 UEP bulletin asked members to “consider
a voluntary action plan of reducing their flock size by 8%
before July 1.”
Preliminary reports suggest this was not accomplished.
However, U.S. per capita egg consumption has fallen
steadily, at about 1% per year, for more than 10 years.
The U.S. layer flock has accordingly declined to new lows
each year. Yet, while the volume of spent layer hens going
to slaughter per year is also declining, it is likely to remain
above 100 million per year for many years to come. The
1994 slaughter total was circa 115 million. Other recent figures
are 123 million in 1993; 127 million in 1992; 124 million
in 1991; and 132 million in 1990.
Nasty, brutish, and short
The lives of factory farmed chickens are both brief
and gruesome. Most broiler chickens spend most of their 49-
to-53-day average lifespan on deep litter in open floors; a few
are battery-caged. The typical floor area holds 10,000 to
30,000 birds. They enjoy some room to run around as hatchlings,
but the space shrinks as they grow. By the time they
reach slaughter weight, each chicken has standing room only:
the Frank Perdue standard, for instance, is .735 square feet.
Two chickens would stand on this page, with two more on
the next page.
Layer hens have no more space, as 97.8% are battery-caged;
70.6% are caged from hatching, while the
remainder spend up to 20 weeks on deep litter first. Male
chicks are usually crushed to death or macerated on hatching,
as their market value is less than the cost of the feed that
would be used to bring them up to market weight.
Most commercially raised chickens are debeaked
with a hot guillotine as soon as practicable after hatching, to
prevent cannibalistic pecking––a stress reaction to crowding
and inability to flee. Whether debeaking is painful to chickens
is hotly debated, with academic experts lined up on either
side of the question.
Even if all other poultry husbandry practices could
somehow be made acceptable to the humane community, a
prospect about as likely as overnight global adoption of vegetarianism,
poultry handling, transportation, and slaughter
would remain highly problematic.
“Based on a survey of six processing plants involving
a total of 1,324 carcasses found dead on arrival at the
plant,” poultry industry researcher N.C. Gregory reported
last year in World’s Poultry Science Journal , “an average of
0.19 percent broilers were dead on arrival at the plant, with
47% having died from congestive heart failure, 35% from
trauma, and 4% from acute heart failure. Most congestive
heart failure deaths were presumed to be associated with the
physiological responses associated with catching, loading,
and transport. Broken bones were found in 3% of broilers and
29% of (spent) hens. In addition, an unknown number of live
birds had dislocated wing and leg bones.”
In other words, about 12.4 million chickens a year
are dead on arrival at slaughtering plants due to rough handling.
About 20 million broilers and 48 million spent hens
arrive at slaughtering plants with broken bones.
By any standard of humane, these are deplorable
Cruelty isn’t profitable
Ironically, many of the cruelties perceived by
humane observers are also inefficiencies as seen by poultry
industry economists. Disposing of male chicks en masse i s
not profitable; debeaking wouldn’t be profitable if cannibalism
in close quarters could otherwise be avoided; disposing
of laying hens any earlier than necessary is not profitable;
injuries to poultry in handling and transport are not profitable,
even if the methods leading to the injuries are the most profitable
now available; and the spreading perception that the
poultry industry is inherently cruel is most certainly not profitable.
There is even evidence, published in July 1994 and
June 1995 by teams from North Carolina State University and
the University of California at Davis, which shows that
crowding seven hens into a battery laying cage is about $15
less profitable over one laying cycle and $10 less profitable
over a second laying cycle, following molt, than keeping the
standard caging density at six.
Chicken producers are aware that appropriate
amendment of current husbandry practices could prove very
profitable. Monomaniacally focused on ways and means to
boost production until under a decade ago, chicken industry
researchers have accordingly turned toward “animal welfare”
studies over the past half dozen years or so. But the object of
most such studies isn’t to identify and abolish cruelty per se.
Rather, it’s to find ways of coaxing chickens into accepting
their bad lot––and to keep consumers from asking hard questions
about which is abused most, the broilers or the layers.
The easy way out might be to keep chickens
drugged into a semi-stupor, by adding sedatives to their feed
along with the antibiotics they already get. But that can’t be
done with any currently known sedative, as residues might
contaminate the meat and eggs. There has been extensive
investigation of mechanical sedation, involving manipulation
of sound and light. Some producers swear by broadcasting
music into chicken barns; others say it does more for the
workers than the chickens. One tactic that has been widely
adopted is keeping chickens under red light. Because chickens
can’t see in the red spectrum, they respond to red light as
to darkness. The catch is that many people don’t see very
well in red light, either. About a decade ago a man named
Randall Wise invented red plastic contact lenses for chickens
and formed Animalens Inc., of Wellesley, Massachusetts, to
promote them. Experiments with the lenses were conducted
at several universities and heavily publicized circa 1987-1990,
but drew strong objections from United Poultry Concerns, a
militant animal rights group dedicated to improving the lot of
chickens, because the lenses apparently caused the chickens
serious eye irritation. The idea now seems to have been abandoned.
The great hope of the chicken industry today is
biotechnology. With only a bit more understanding of the
embryonic development of chickens, it should be possible to
prevent the conception of male chicken embryos through a
combination of genetic manipulation and closer thermal regulation
of incubating eggs. Researchers are also working to
create more robust hens, who might be able to produce eggs
in commercially acceptable quantity for far longer than the
current maximum layer lifespan of layer hens of 16 to 18
months. The combination of behavioral study and transspecies
gene-splicing might eventually even produce hens for
whom life in a cramped cage is no more unnatural, uncomfortable,
or undesireable than life in a mushroom colony is
tedious to fungi.
Closer to accomplishment may be breeding out or
genetically manipulating out the traits in hens that cause them
to be stressed in close confinement, handling, and transport.
In 1994, Purdue University professor William M. Muir
announced that after 13 years of selective breeding, involving
seven generations of hens, at cost of $1 million in grants from
various sources, he had produced hens who lay eggs at the
same rate as conventional layers, with markedly less aggression
toward cagemates. Reportedly, Muir’s hens have mortality
due to aggressive behavior of three to four percent over
30 weeks, compared with 35% to 40% aggression-related
mortality among non-debeaked conventional layer hens.
Even losses of three to four percent, however, may not be
low enough to convince the poultry industry to abandon
In 1985 a Canadian team reported a success in
selectively breeding a blind strain of chicken who could not
only be handled more easily, but also yielded 12.7% more
eggs. Producers were reluctant, however, to accept blind
chickens. That, at last, seemed where most producers drew a
line against tampering with nature.
The acceptability of manipulating the characteristics
of a species for any purpose, including to reduce animal suffering,
is hotly debated within humane circles. Prevailing
opinion seems inclined toward the view that genetically tampering
with species is outright immoral, unethical, and
unjustifiable, aggressively advanced for about a decade by
Jeremy Rifkin and Andrew Kimbrell of the Foundation on
Economic Trends. The Rifkin/Kimbrell view long ago
received the endorsement of the American Humane
Association, Humane Society of the U.S., and the leading
anti-vivisection societies.
Yet Steve Best of the International Wildlife
Coaltion, for one, a longtime leading figure in Canadian animal
rights campaigns, especially on behalf of marine mammals,
went on record as far back as the 1989 Canada/U.S.
Study Group on Animal Rights conference as favoring the use
of biotechnology when it can be used to reduce or prevent
suffering––not as the most preferred of all possible alternatives,
but as a practical compromise when the preferred alternative
of abolition of a particular practice is unlikely. Best
also foresaw some knotty philosophical problems surrounding
the use of biotechnology to transform agriculture further into
an industrial process. “If meat or something with the nature
of meat can be produced without suffering or even the
involvement of a sentient being,” he asked, “because science
has learned how to grow it like a cell culture in a petri dish,
then as repugnant as eating it might be to us, do we really
have a moral objection to it?”
Kill on site?
Short of extirpating sentience from chickens,
biotechnology isn’t likely to accomplish much to reduce the
suffering of chickens in transport. Eliminating transport,
however, is theoretically possible. The small size of chickens,
the huge concentrations of chickens at single locations, and
the comparatively great distances chickens must be transported
to slaughter and market would all seem to weigh in favor
of on-farm slaughter. Many chicken farms are quite large
enough to keep permanent on-site slaughtering/processing
operations busy fulltime. Others might be served by mobile
units. It is likely, however, that the efficiencies of scale
inherent in the present system will outweigh the economic
advantages of slaughtering/processing on site (thereby avoiding
transport) until and unless the cost of transportation substantially
increases––as some economists predict will happen
between 2005 and 2010.
Killed at the farm now are only spent layer hens
who escape capture during loading for transport––and that
killing is often anything but humane. On March 28, 1995,
ANIMAL PEOPLE received a detailed description of such
killing operation from Doll Stanley of In Defense of Animals,
who witnessed it six days earlier at an egg farm near Grenada,
Mississippi. The farm had culled 300,000 hens from a total
population of about 500,000, and sent them to slaughter at a
Tyson plant in Arkansas.
“During the cull,” Stanley wrote, “hurried hands
pulling them three or four to a hand lost the grip of many,”
enough for the carcasses to later fill several dump trucks
“piled as high as the sides would allow. Because chickens
naturally settle for the night,” she continued, “the employees
were hunting them at night, by lamp.”
The killing was done by head-twisting, variously
resulting in broken necks, decapitation, strangulation, or
just paralysis, depending on the strength and skill of the
Many chicken injuries in transport and handling
could be prevented if workers were trained to move birds gently
instead of with maximum speed––and were paid by the
hour instead of by how many they catch and pack, as is often
now the case. Currently, chicken-catchers are expected to
handle more than 7,100 chickens apiece per 12-hour shift at
Perdue Farms plants, almost three times the reported 1985
industry norm of 2,500 in an eight-hour shift. The pay scale
for Perdue chicken-catchers peaked at $9.38 per hour in
March 1992; Perdue then slashed it 17%, to $7.88 per hour,
after discovering that rival firms paid less. The pay for catchers
remained, however, almost twice the going wage for
processers. To maintain the catching pace Perdue expects,
and keep those relatively high-paying jobs, catchers must
snatch chickens out of their cages four at a time in each hand,
by one leg per chicken.
In Britain, where chicken-handling is an issue of
public controversy, veterinarian D.M. Broom of the
University of Cambridge found in 1990 that 29% of spent
hens suffer broken bones in handling en route from cage to
slaughter. Handling the hens individually and carefully cut
the rate of bone breakage to 14%, less than half as many.
In a 1993 follow-up, D.M. Alvey and S.S. Tucker
of the ADAS poultry research center in Gleadthorpe,
Nottinghamshire, discovered that handling chickens by two
legs instead of one could cut bone breakage from nearly 14%
to under 5%.
Northern Irish inventor Jim O’Neill in 1985 sold a
mechanical chicken-catcher to producers in Australia and
Japan, where labor is relatively expensive. Resembling a
combine harvester, the machine purportedly could capture
5,000 chickens per hour without harming them, using foam
rubber paddles. But the mechanical chicken-catcher never
caught on in the U.S., though it received significant publicity––and
is apparently not much used anywhere.
Spent layer hens suffer broken bones in handling
and transport at approximately 10 times the rate of broiler
chickens because of caged layer fatigue, known as CLF in the
industry, which is caused by the diversion of minerals from
their bones to the production of egg shells. It could be considered
an avian version of osteoporosis, and is in fact the
major factor in causing layer hens to become “spent,” well
short of the end of their natural lifespan of three to five years.
Like osteoporosis, CLF may have nutritional solutions.
Increasing the productive life of layer hens has not greatly
concerned egg producers to date, since a market for spent
hens has existed, but with the decline of the market due to
greater and cheaper production of broiler chickens, and the
looming concern that disposing of spent hens might even
begin to cost money if they must be composted, more
research may be done on the prevention of CLF through diet.
Calcium supplements are already used to combat
bone breakage in turkeys, bred and raised to gain more
weight then their skeletons were designed by nature to carry.
From five to nine percent of domestic turkeys suffer from leg
failures that usually begin with a stress fracture. Eventually
the turkeys collapse; have difficulty eating, drinking, and
even breathing; develop breast lesions from lying on the
ground; and die. Supplements of crushed limestone or oyster
shells, added to feed, have proved useful in helping turkeys
to develop stronger bones. What works for turkeys may well
work for hens.
University of Georgia extension service poultry specialist
Stan Savage has no doubt about the importance of malnutrition
in causing high preslaughter chicken mortality.
“Broken bones can result because of feed being removed,”
Savage wrote in his 1991 Egg Industry article A d d r e s s i n g
Bone Breakage. In the past, when hens were cheap and feed
was expensive, the loss in hen weight was less costly than the
feed eaten in the day or days prior to slaughter. To avoid feed
being left at the farm in the tanks or in the feeders, some
companies let the hens do without feed for a period prior to
slaughter. To avoid feed being found in the hens’ crops,
which can cause fecal contamination of the carcasses, some
managers advise pre-slaughter feed withdrawal too early.”
Based on Savage’s work, experts have known since
1976 that starving spent hens for three days before slaughter
results in 100 to 140 broken bones per 100 hens. Hens fed
right up to slaughter suffer 40 to 50 broken bones per 100
hens, and hens whose rations are supplemented with ground
oyster shells suffer just 15 to 20 broken bones per 100 hens.
This has not, however, encouraged producers to
keep feeding spent hens when feed prices climb. Recently,
spent hens have had so little market value, with the pet food
market glutted by remnants from broiler chicken production,
that many producers are looking into on-site high-speed maceration,
the same method often used to kill unwanted male
chickens at hatching. Live, fully conscious hens are tossed
headfirst into a device resembling a log chipper. Their pulverized
remnants are collected in the back of a self-unloading
truck. According to a recent edition of Feedstuffs, Jet-ProCo.,
of Springfield, Ohio, has invented the acme of spent
hen disposal efficiency: “The equipment would render the old
hens and produce a high-protein, calcium and potassium
product to be put back into feed on the farm.”
Ain’t nothing old country boys like them can’t hack.
Yet high-speed maceration might be much less cruel, being
quick, than present practice.
Caging conditions
Alvey and Tucker reported that the installation of
perches in battery caging could cut the volume of bone breakage
in hens, apparently by reducing foot stress and encouraging
them to exercise. The rate of bone breakage in cages
without perches ran up to 12.5%, but dropped to just 4.2%
when perches were comfortably positioned. However, perch-
es have not caught on with producers, because the hens laid
eggs from the perches instead of the floor, causing breakage
to jump from 1.1% to as much as 5.9%.
G. Norgaard-Nielsen of the Royal Veterinary and
Agricultural University in Denmark reported in 1994 that laying
hens kept in deep litter, like broiler chickens, had bones
almost twice as strong as those kept in cages––but that isn’t
likely to catch on because of the much greater cost of collecting
the eggs.
In Europe, as here, the traditional small family
farm is still a potent political icon––and in Europe, such
farms still exist in significant numbers. Their presence is
prized to help preserve rural ambiance in green belts between
cities, and battery cage bans help keep them viable by keeping
free-range chicken production cost-competitive. With
those levers in addition to concern for animal welfare,
activists in several nations have thus far succeeded in keeping
battery caging from becoming the norm––but battery cage
bans and related measures adopted during the past decade
could be rolled back under the General Agreement on Trade
and Tariffs, which prohibits the application of so-called
“process standards” dictating the manner in which products
are made when such standards act as trade barriers. Bluntly,
members of GATT may soon be unable to keep battery cage
egg producers from flooding their stores with cheaper eggs.
Regardless of how chickens are fed and housed, the
bottom line is labor. Poultry handlers and killers are among
the least skilled, least trained, and least experienced employees
in any sector of the North American workforce. Many are
resident aliens; Statistics supplied by the United Food and
Commercial Workers International Union indicate that more
than 80% of poultry workers are female, within the 18-to-25-
year-old age range, averaging less than one year of experience,
earning low wages that start at the legal minimum. As
of 1990, the 14,000 nonunionized poultry workers employed
by Perdue earned an average of $5.45 per hour; since the
1992 rate cuts for catchers, the average is reportedly down.
Poultry industry personnel turnover ranges up to 100% per
year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 1990
that over the preceding 12 years, just 48 out of 15,000 poultry
workers qualified for pension benefits.
Abuses are rife.
Egg City, one of the biggest producers in
California, imposed an across-the-boards 30% cut in wages
in 1986, attracting efforts by the late Cesar Chavez of United
Farm Workers to organize the workforce. But the UFW was
no more successful than other unions have been. Chavez, an
ethical vegetarian, is now deceased, and the overwhelming
majority of poultry workers are still unrepresented.
In 1989 National Public Radio and the Washington
P o s t reported that Perdue workers at a plant in Lewiston,
North Carolina, were routinely fired if they reported jobrelated
injuries. Former labor organizer Henry Spira, now
president of Animal Rights International, amplified the
charges in a series of full-page newspaper ads. “Up to 30% of
the workers in that factory are afflicted with repetitive motion
syndrome,” the ads stated, “a potentially crippling disorder
of the hands or wrists caused by having to cut up to 75 chick-
ens per minute. A Perdue personnel memo stated that it was
normal procedure for about 60% of workers to go to the
(company) nurse for pain killers and to have their hands bandaged.
Donna Bazemore, a former employee, told National
Public Radio that she’d seen women urinating and vomiting
on the work line because they were not allowed to leave it to
go to the bathroom. None of the Perdue factories is unionized.
And in 1986, Frank Perdue told the president’s commission
on organized crime that he sought help from organized
crime figures to keep it that way.”
Many years later, the noise has subsided, but nothing
substantial seems to have changed.
In another noted case, 25 workers were killed and
56 injured on September 3, 1991, when fire swept the
Imperial Food Products Ltd. chicken processing plant at
Hamlet, North Carolina. A medical examiner found that illegally
locked and/or blockaded doors had contributed to most
of the deaths. Incredibly, a USDA inspector had approved
locking one fire door––which he had no authority to do.
Owner Emmett Roe in 1992 pleaded guilty to 25 counts of
manslaughter, drawing a 20-year prison sentence which
could be reduced to less than seven with good behavior.
DeCoster Farms, of Turner, Maine, was in
September 1992 caught keeping as many as 100 workers from
Mexico, Texas, and Central America in virtual slavery.
Confined to company housing when not on the job, the
Spanish-speaking workers were threatened with deportation if
they left without authorization, and were not allowed to have
visitors. Priests, social workers, and truant officers were
barred from the premises. Fined $15,000 in January 1993,
DeCoster took the case to the Maine Supreme Court, which
ruled in January 1995 that the company had violated the civil
rights of employees.
Currently, momentum for change in the chicken
industry centers on attempts to extend the Humane Slaughter
Act to cover poultry, repeatedly introduced to Congress by
Representative Andy Jacobs (D-Indiana) on behalf of Farm
Sanctuary. The main import of such an extension would be to
require prestunning before slaughter. However, according to
an industry study published earlier this year in the Journal of
Applied Poultry Research, “electrical stunning [is already] used on greater than 90% of all birds slaughtered except light
fowl and geese” at the 329 plants the researchers examined.
Electrical stunning when properly conducted is
acceptable practice according to the criteria of the 1 9 9 3
Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia, the most recent
review of animal killing methods by the American Veterinary
Medical Association, but this scarcely means that the use of
electrical stunning on poultry is beyond criticism. Unlike cattle,
hogs, and horses, who are mechanically stunned at the
slaughterhouse door, before shackling and hoisting, chickens
and other fowl are first hung upside down from a trolley line,
then dipped headfirst into an electrified brine solution for
stunning on their way to be killed by decapitation. Despite
pressure in favor of electrical stunning brought to bear by
some animal protection groups, e.g. Farm Sanctuary and
United Poultry Concerns, and despite the popularity of stunning
poultry to insure ease of handling in the actual killing
and immediate aftermath, it is doubtful that the stunning
actually does anything to reduce suffering. Indeed, prestunning
chickens may prolong rather than shorten their distress,
especially when, as sometimes happens, a chicken passes
through the stunning bath without being fully stunned. The
1993 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia indicates that
merely decapitating chickens may render them insensate as
quickly as the prestunning. Some sources estimate the time
between when a chicken is hung upside down and dispatch at
approximately 40 to 60 seconds. This could be substantially
reduced by eliminating the stunning bath.
There are other drawbacks to prestunning chickens.
It was once believed that electrical prestunning produced
cleaner carcasses, since the shocking often causes the chickens
to evacuate their bowels. More recently, the brine tanks
used for prestunning have been recognized as “a fecal soup,”
as one witness at a recent Congressional hearing on poultry
safety put it––a source of potentially lethal contaminants.
The primary advantage of prestunning may be neither
reduced suffering nor improved cleanliness, but rather
improved production line efficiency. Prestunned chickens
don’t twitch; if merely decapitated, the corpses would twitch
for up to 15 seconds, delaying the beginning of evisceration
and dismemberment. A secondary benefit of prestunning is
improved worker safety. Bluntly, the killers of prestunned
chickens are less likely to cut themselves.
The third benefit is fooling the public into thinking
the chickens don’t suffer.
Mandatory prestunning could not be called a
humane reform. The only humane response to the poultry
industry as it now exists is to shut it down

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