According to a 1995 survey commissioned by the Associated Press (AP), two-thirds
of Americans agree with the statement, "An animal's right to live free
of suffering should be just as important as a person's." Another survey
commissioned by Animal Rights International (ARI) in 1995 found that 90% of
those surveyed believe it is wrong to confine animals in cages so small they
cannot turn around (eg, veal calves and pigs) or stretch their wings (eg, battery
hens). Yet, only 8% of the population rarely or never eats meat, with
vegetarians only a small fraction of this. Something is amiss.
No one likes to see an animal suffer. Indeed, kindness towards animals is a praised virtue in our society, and these surveys reflect that belief. But people are failing to take responsibility for their own complicity in the suffering. Most people believe the farmer or the USDA needs to be held responsible, not the consumer. Part of this fallacy comes about from what is termed a "welfarist" mindset (despite the reference to "an animal's right" in the AP survey) when it comes to animals.
Currently, our society takes it for granted that animals will be used for food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research. The compassion people feel for animals, then, is restricted to eliminating the excess, or "unnecessary", suffering inflicted upon them. The suffering inherent in using animals for these purposes is seen as "necessary" and is tolerated, though perhaps remorsefully. With an animal rights perspective, one looks at the bigger picture and asks whether the use itself of animals is necessary. Since we are realizing there is no true need to use animals in any aspect of life, the infringement on the animal's right to life and the suffering caused is unethical.
Animals for food involves the killing of a staggering nine billion warm-blooded animals per year in the United States. And this number is growing at about three percent per year!
Chickens make up the largest group of animals killed each year, with 7.7 billion slaughtered in 1996. Chickens are also the most mistreated animals on modern farms.
There are two types of chickens: layers and broilers. Layers are raised to produce eggs and broilers are raised for their meat.
There are 300 million layers in the US. More than 95% spend their lives in battery cages. A typical cage is 12 inches by 20 inches (240 sq. in.) and a chicken physically takes up about 100 sq. in. of floor space. The cage is so small that there is no room for the chicken to stretch her wings and barely enough room to turn around and take a couple steps. That is assuming there is only 1 chicken per cage. Four or five chickens are normally put into each cage. Needless to say, it is a tight fit. Chickens spend 1-3 years in this cage.
Being so overcrowded, the chickens peck and fight with each other. Some are driven to cannibalism. Because this can lead to dead chickens and decreased productivity, the farmer cuts off the chickens' beaks. The beak does contain a nerve, so this is not a painless procedure, but if done correctly it probably only causes temporary pain. Taking the time to be careful costs money, though, so chickens are debeaked as rapidly as possible and many suffer constant beak pain due to an improperly cut nerve.
About once a year, chickens go through a molt in which they loose old feathers and grow a new set. This process takes about 4 months naturally. This diverts some of the chickens' resources away from laying eggs, so egg production drops which means lower profits. If the farmer chooses to use the same chickens for more than one year instead of sending them to slaughter and buying new ones, he speeds up the process in what is known as a forced-molt. The farmer withholds food from the chickens for up to 2 weeks. Water may also be withheld for several days. The chickens loose one-third of their body weight during this time. Those who survive this shock to their system will start a new cycle of egg production.
After a year or two of nearly constant egg-laying without any ability to exercise, the chickens' bones weaken and become brittle in what is known as cage layer fatigue. Bones break easily from the jostling with the other chickens in the cage and from rough handling by workers when it comes time to ship them to the slaughterhouse. By the time they reach the slaughterhouse, as many as 30% of the chickens have broken bones.
The lives of 7.6 billion broiler chickens are easy in comparison, if only because they must endure for only 2 months before being killed. Rather than being housed in small cages they are released as chicks on the floor of a huge poultry house with tens of thousands of other chickens. Pecking orders can only be set up in flocks of less than 100 chickens, so feather pecking and cannibalism are again common. To limit the damage, broiler chickens are also debeaked.
The chickens have been bred to grow fast with as much meat as is possible. Their legs have not kept up, so the chickens suffer from joint pain, and many chickens become crippled. After two months, they have grown to overcrowded conditions, blanketing a feces-covered floor which hasn't been cleaned since they first entered the building. The air is so filled with ammonia and dust, that chicken farmers are advised to limit their time in the poultry house and to always wear a respirator when inside. The chickens have no escape from the filth, so their lungs become damaged and they develop ulcers on their feet. Their lives have been so stressful that of those who die during transport to the slaughterhouse, one-half die of heart failure, despite being only 7 weeks old.
A typical poultry house, be it for layers or broilers, houses tens of thousands of birds. Individual veterinary care is impossible, so chickens must endure all their injuries until death ends their suffering.
The number of lives lost is not merely the number slaughtered. Many more chickens are born then ever make it to the slaughterhouse. One-half of all chickens bred for egg-laying are killed shortly after hatching because they are the wrong gender - about 200 million per year. Another 600 million chickens per year die either from disease, stress, or injury, or are destroyed for other reasons at the "farm".
Every part of a chicken's life is designed to maximize the farmer's profits and meet the large consumer demand for cheap meat and eggs. Compassion decreases productivity and efficiency, so compassion is sacrificed.
Overwhelming evidence exists to prove that humans do not need to eat meat, dairy, or eggs to remain healthy. Countless scientific bodies as well as population studies have shown time and time again that strictly vegetarian diets can be among the healthiest. With this understanding, the suffering and loss of life inflicted on animals on farms are unjustified. Because hundreds of times more animals suffer on factory farms than anywhere else, being vegetarian and even becoming vegan are the most effective actions one can take to decrease the amount of animal abuse in the world. Vegans strive to refrain from consuming and exploiting animals in any form. By not eating any flesh foods, milk and dairy products, eggs, honey, and other ingredients of animal origin, they take responsibility for their actions, thereby ending much of the contribution to the consumer demand that leads to the suffering.
For these reasons, learn and participate in VSDC's wide-ranging activities. Join in the observance of the 16th annual World Farm Animals Day (Oct 2) this year and even volunteer to help with outreach and tabling (see Upcoming Activities for October 3rd). Most importantly, if you aren't already vegan, consider being one.
Sources:  Agricultural Statistics 1998, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1998.  American Dietetics Association, "Position of The American Dietetics Association: Vegetarian diets," JADA, Nov. 1993, p. 1317-1319.  Animal Rights International, 1995.  Merritt Clifton, "Life on the farm isn't very laid back," Animal People, Oct. 1995.  David Foster, "Animal Rights," The Associated Press, December 3, 1995.  Mack North and Donald Bell, Commercial Chicken Production Manual, 4th ed. (Chapman & Hall: New York, 1990).  Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Avon Books, 1990).
1996 US Animal Slaughter
Chickens (broilers) 7,546
Chickens (losses) ~800
Chickens (layers) 154
Hogs & Pigs 93
Cows (beef) 37
Cows (dairy) 3
Cows (veal) 2