On May 12, FRONTLINE aired “The Trouble with Chicken,” an investigation into an outbreak of salmonella Heidelberg at one of the nation’s largest poultry processors. With chicken consumption at an all-time high and more severe illnesses stemming from this product than any other meat, the hour-long PBS documentary questioned why our food safety system is not doing more to prevent these dangerous infections.
The most effective way out of this vicious cycle is to go to the source of the problem: sickening environments and sick animals. In a HuffPost Live conversation with Frontline Correspondent David Hoffman, the ASPCA’s Senior Manager of Farm Animal Welfare, Daisy Freund, stated, “when you’re talking about food safety, we have to go back to the farms and talk about how these animals are living.”
Chickens today are raised in crowded, barren, windowless sheds where disease can run rampant, and are bred to grow four times faster than they did sixty years ago. As long as chickens are raised in such unhealthy factory farm environments, they will continue to suffer and pose serious risks to consumers from foodborne illnesses.
The FRONTLINE documentary shows that federal agencies tasked with protecting the public are hampered by a culture that defers to industry and takes a reactive approach to addressing these issues. That is why the ASPCA is calling on advocates who care about animal welfare and consumer safety to demand better from the chicken industry through our Truth About Chicken campaign.
Last Tuesday the ASPCA’s farm animal welfare campaign testified to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the committee that advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on its Organic rules.
The ASPCA asked the Board to examine the problem of fast, unhealthy growth among USDA Organic birds raised for meat (“broiler” chickens and turkeys). Like conventionally raised birds, most organic birds are bred for unsustainable growth that causes massive suffering (including difficulty standing and walking). You can read more on our Truth About Chicken website, which shines a spotlight on these horrendous and largely hidden problems.
The USDA looks to the NOSB for suggestions on how to improve to its rules, so it is critical that the NOSB encourages the USDA to restrict the use of fast-growing, unhealthy birds.
In the coming months, we will need your help in urging the NOSB to act. If you join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, we will let you know as soon as those opportunities arise. In the meantime, please spread the word about the need for better standards for USDA Organic animals!
Yesterday Tyson Foods, Inc. announced that it will phase out the practice of feeding antibiotics to the broiler chickens it produces when those antibiotics are also used for human medicine. Tyson joins other companies including Perdue, McDonald's, and Chick-fil-A that have recently made similar statements.
While it is great that companies are responding to consumer concerns about the very real public health issue of drug resistance, removing antibiotics without improving living conditions on farms is like taking off a bandage and leaving an open wound exposed.
Chicken companies have relied on antibiotics to counteract the disease that runs rampant in today’s crowded, filthy industrial farms. Bred to grow four times as fast as chickens grew 60 years ago, today’s chickens have weak immune systems, suffer from high rates of lameness and often spend most of their lives lying in their own waste. Removing antibiotics without addressing these animal welfare issues leaves animals vulnerable to disease and could increase consumers’ exposure to foodborne bacteria.
That is why the ASPCA has joined the Center for Food Safety to call on the chicken industry to fulfill its responsibility to consumers and animals by providing more space, better sanitation and lower stress for birds in tandem with this reduction of antibiotics. Consumers are demanding not just safer products but higher animal welfare on industrial farms, and the two are inextricably linked. If you want to demand more humanely raised chicken where you shop, fill out our supermarket request card today!
As Big Ag continues its efforts to conceal the truth about how animals suffer on factory farms, the ASPCA and advocates continue our counterattack to protect the public’s right to know what goes on there.
"Ag-gag" bills, conceived and pushed by the agricultural industry to criminalize undercover investigations on factory farms, have been introduced in nearly half of all U.S. states. These measures are intended to silence factory farm whistleblowers—removing protection from vulnerable animals who need it and giving it to powerful corporations who hide behind it.
Last week, we launched #OpenTheBarns, a rallying cry of advocates representing interests as diverse as animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, environmental protection, and civil liberties.
On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media avenues, groups like Food and Water Watch, the Government Accountability Project, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and the National Consumers League are sharing their reasons to #OpenTheBarns.
Because food workers fill our plates, and they deserve a voice #OpenTheBarns
Even some farmers are part of the movement, because those who have nothing to fear have nothing to hide. They include Maryland’s Carole Morison, the whistle-blowing chicken farmer who was featured in the documentary Food Inc.; Georgia farmer and American Grassfed Alliance vice president Will Harris; and Oregon farmer and Socially Responsible Agriculture CEO Kendra Kimbiraskas.
Average Americans are also speaking their minds, because these issues matter to them. In a 2012 poll, 94 percent of the American public agreed that "from every step of their lives on a farm, farm animals should be treated in a way that inflicts the least amount of pain and suffering possible." In the same poll, 71 percent of American adults said they support undercover investigative efforts to expose farm animal abuse on industrial farms, and 64 percent opposed making such investigations illegal.
In a 2014 poll, 81 percent of consumers said that chickens—the farm animals most often raised for food—should be humanely raised. That alone covers 9 billion animals.
Celebrities and Members of Congress are also adding their voices to the dialogue, including Portia de Rossi, Martha Stewart, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
One reason this alliance is so large is that animal abuse isn’t the only unethical activity Big Ag is trying to keep secret. Documented investigations of factory farms have revealed unsafe conditions that endanger workers, shoddy food safety practices that put consumers at risk, and practices that ravage our environment. Ag-gag legislation can even shield puppy mills, which can fall under the category of “agricultural activity” in some states.
Whistleblower revelations play an important part in reforming corrupt institutions. Decades of undercover investigations—the very kind these ag-gag laws are trying to suppress—have led directly to critical milestones including the passage of the federal Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the eventual establishment of the federal Food and Drug Administration. They have also led to reform in corporate practices and criminal liability.
A broad coalition of advocates, including the ASPCA, has helped defeat more than two dozen ag-gag bills to date. Despite this, Big Ag is showing no signs of letting up. There’s just too much money to be made.
In the first few months of the 2015 legislative session, ag-gag laws have been introduced in nine states, most recently North Carolina, where ag-gag proponents are making their third try in three years.
We have to keep fighting these laws and exposing their motives, for the welfare of the animals, but also for our right to know the ultimate price truly being paid for the food on our plates.
So please add your own voice to the #OpenTheBarns campaign, and tell the agricultural industry that animal cruelty—anywhere, for any reason—demands sunlight, not secrecy.
Chicken Scratch is an ASPCA Blog feature that highlights interesting news about farm animals and farm animal welfare.
A new investigative piece by online media company Fusion brings us behind the normally closed doors of America’s chicken industry, thanks to one fed-up farmer. The six-part series, which can be viewed here, reveals the inhumane, unhealthy conditions that define modern poultry factory farming deeply affect farmers as well as birds. “Producers” like Craig Watts disagree with the way they are forced to raise chickens, but fear of retribution by the big poultry companies has kept them silent—until now.
When Fusion investigative correspondent Mariana Van Zeller enters one of Watts’ poultry sheds for the first time, she is struck by its size and the stench of ammonia. As Watts says, the math is easy enough: 30,000 birds in a 20,000-square-foot shed means each bird has less than one square foot of floor space. With nowhere to move and fast-growth genetics that leave them struggling to carry their own weight, many birds develop raw, open sores on their undersides from languishing in their own waste.
These conditions are designed for maximum profit for the poultry companies, but they have profound consequences on the well-being of animals and the farmers. The poultry industry estimates a 3-5% mortality rate in broiler chickens on farms. That means more than 260 million birds die before they go to slaughter each year.
Although large poultry companies set the birds’ living conditions and have created crippling breed traits, it’s the farmers who are responsible for culling the sick and deformed animals. When Van Zeller asks Watts how he feels having to euthanize so many birds every day, he responds that it is “disheartening on two levels. One, having to do this to a live animal. And two, that I know it’s going to hurt me financially.”
The ASPCA is committed to improving the lives of chickens raised on farms across this country. If you are concerned about this issue and want to request that products from healthier, more humanely raised animals be sold in your local stores, take action at TruthAboutChicken.org today.