2014 Conscious Eating Conference: Session #5: Free-Range and Backyard Chickens
Speaker: Karen Davis, Ph.D., United Poultry Concerns
Karen Davis, Ph.D., is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns; is an author of several books on the poultry industry, and maintains a sanctuary for chickens in Virginia.
In her presentation, Davis talked about the reality behind the myth of the labels free-range, cage-free, and organic, and whether or not these are good alternatives for consumers. She also talked about the disconnectedness and disassociation we have with these smart and social birds, and how we don’t see them as living, breathing beings—but rather, we see them as commodities used for food.
Davis explained how chickens are interesting, smart, social and companionable birds that crave light and need daily exercise. But she said, “what we do to them is criminal and all for nothing—a 5-minute meal.” She pointed out how mother hens communicate with their chicks well before they are even born and how the chicks send messages to the mother through the egg, about their comfort and well-being.” Davis said the process of producing an egg for a hen is a highly active, demanding biological process where the hen’s entire body is making intense demands on them. But on factory farms Davis noted, “hens must produce eggs against their will. It’s a horrible imposition placed on their bodies because they must mass produce up to 300 eggs or more per year—double or triple the number they normally produce.” On factory farms, Davis explains, “the hens are terrified, they give up, their spirit is stripped away from them—they are broken and feel hopeless–they just shut down.” She said the males are slaughtered at birth, millions per week, “gasping, alive, they are crushed, it’s a sickening waste and terribly unethical.” Male chicks are not considered profitable economically so they kill them.
On factory farms, life is anything but normal for chickens. Davis described how they live their entire lives in confinement inside dark, dank, smelly, and dirty cages that are seldom cleaned. They breathe toxic ammonia from their waste that burns their bodies, skin and respiratory systems. They never breathe fresh air. She described how chickens are stacked on top of each other, thousands of birds per floor, in unbelievable crowded conditions so they cannot move, walk, or turn around. They often fracture their bones from injuring one another. The hens become so depleted from producing eggs too rapidly for their bodies that they become calcium depleted, and can’t even stand up or stay standing, so they fall down and collapse. Then the hens are usually slaughtered prematurely.
Chickens bred for meat, Davis says, “are bred to become huge quickly so they can barely walk or move, they’re abnormal and deformed—people have done this to them.”
She says small local backyard chicken farms are not necessarily that much better, because they buy the hatchlings from huge industrial hatcheries that send them by air transportation to the farms and the chicks die in flight, freezing from the cold temperatures in cargo.
She noted the economics of mass production and the production of cheap food that doesn’t allow for animal welfare and protection. Instead our production is akin to an “assembly line of production for the animals who are providing an endless supply of cheap goods for us.”
Speaker: Karen Davis
Conference: 2014 Conscious Eating Conference
Date: April 2014
Place: David Brower Center, Berkeley, CA