It can be hard to cut through the clever marketing and buzzwords on food packaging and get down to the truth. For example, most shoppers assume that an “organic” label on meat, eggs or dairy means that the farm animals used lived in a nice setting, with access to the outdoors and fresh air throughout the day. But that’s not required by the USDA, which sets the organic standards, so it’s not necessarily true.
Unfortunately, loopholes and unclear definitions are common when it comes to labels and claims on animal-derived products. On the other hand, there are animal welfare labeling programs that set and enforce meaningful standards for farm animals—some through independent, third-party auditors. The ASPCA’s new online and downloadable label guide separates fact from fiction so you can make educated choices and vote with your wallet for better farm animal welfare.
As many of you know, the ASPCA has been fighting through our Truth About Chicken campaign to improve the lives of chickens raised for meat. We want to make sure that you’ve seen CNN®’s report airing new footage released by the animal advocacy group Compassion Over Killing® (COK) from their recent investigation* on a chicken factory farm that supplies Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation®—the second-largest chicken producer in the world. Below is an excerpt from COK’s footage:
This rare look inside an industrial chicken farm reveals common living conditions for chickens raised for meat. Tens of thousands of chickens are kept in lightless sheds and bred for growth rates that cause lameness and open sores, injuries which could pose potential food safety risks by acting as gateways to infection. Some chickens are shown with ammonia burns as a result of lying in their own waste. Other birds are too lame or deformed to walk. This investigation also exposed the suffering of sick and dying chickens who were thrown across the sheds and buried alive in pits under the carcasses of other chickens.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The ASPCA’s Truth About Chicken campaign is calling on the chicken industry to significantly improve the lives of these animals and potentially reduce the incidence of foodborne illness for consumers by raising slower-growing chickens in better living conditions. To learn more and take action to help chickens, visit TruthAboutChicken.org today.
Please help us spread the word by sharing this blog and video with your friends on Twitter and Facebook.
*The ASPCA provided grant funding for this investigation as part of our commitment to improving the lives of chickens raised for meat and in line with our belief that transparency on industrial farms will result in a shift toward more humane practices.
It’s not uncommon—though frankly still bizarre—to see live and personified chickens in fast food commercials that encourage their own processing and consumption (Saturday Night Live illustrated that bizarreness well in a 1993 parody).
But even more disturbing are recent ads that celebrate specific and unquestionably cruel chicken raising practices. Clear cases of abject animal suffering are being played for laughs, but you can bet real chickens don’t think it’s funny. And nor should we.
Take the latest Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s spot “Large Breasts” for their Big Chicken Fillet Sandwich. In it, chickens walk around with their breast areas blurred, as an announcer explains, “The FCC prohibits showing large breasts on television…unless, of course, it's in a sandwich. Introducing the biggest, tastiest chicken breasts in fast food.”
The alarming truth about big chicken breasts, as explained in our “The Truth About Chicken” campaign, should inspire repulsion, not rejoicing.
These days, chickens intended for consumption are strategically bred to maximize the amount of breast meat, even at great—sometimes fatal—cost to their welfare. Thanks to a horrific combination of selective breeding and rearing practices, most of today’s chickens are growing at a rate three times faster than they were 60 years ago. The clean, healthy, chickens you see in that commercial bear very little resemblance to actual broiler chickens ultimately winding up on your tray or in your bag.
This rapid and unnatural growth rate strains their hearts, lungs and bones. Unable to support their massive bodies, many have trouble standing, and spend much of their lives lying in their own waste with open sores and wounds.
In some cases, the birds’ breasts grow to such extreme sizes that they can suffer from conditions like “green muscle disease,” in which parts of the breast muscle dies and rots from lack of circulation, even while the chicken continues to live. As our campaign explains, there are better, more humane ways to raise chickens.
Another perplexing new parody comes from Burger King, called “Subservient Chicken.” In it, a formerly popular chicken—actually, an actor in a chicken suit—faces hard times, ultimately finding itself in a satirical cockfight.
The satire isn’t designed to enlighten audiences about animal fighting; it’s designed to sell more chicken sandwiches. In May, while the ad was portraying cockfighting as a light, comical occurrence, we were in Virginia, assisting authorities in raiding a major cockfighting ring involving more than 500 birds. Just last February, we assisted with the sheltering of as many as 4,000 roosters and hens associated with cockfighting in the largest cockfighting case in New York State history.
Cockfighting is crueler than you might think. Injuries include punctured lungs, broken bones and pierced eyes. Gaffs—long, dagger-like attachments—are attached to the birds to make them more deadly, and steroids or other drugs are often administered to make the birds more aggressive.
At the triumphant end of the Subservient Chicken commercial, our resurrected hero, now named “Chicken Big King,” finds himself not only back in the spotlight, but “back with Burger King’s new sandwich, aptly named Chicken Big King.”
So Chicken Big King is back…and wants people to eat him for lunch. Still bizarre.
In a civilized society, whether its members eat chicken or not, people shouldn’t tolerate animal abuse anywhere, for any reason. Selling more sandwiches is no justification for minimizing or lampooning abject suffering, even if the effect is inadvertent, or exists because not enough people are aware these funny fictions are actually real-life cruelties.
Fast food gives people the opportunity to buy cheap chicken. As you watch these commercials, I only ask that you consider the price chickens are paying as well.
Inhumane and unsanitary factory farms don’t just put consumers of meat, eggs and dairy at greater risk of contracting foodborne illnesses: Lots of people are experiencing health problems just by virtue of living near these industrial facilities.
A professor at Iowa State has proposed putting virtual reality goggles on chickens to convince them they’re living outside, rather than in filthy, cramped, barren conditions. It’s so ridiculous it begs the simple question: why not just give them the chance to express their natural behaviors?
Chicken Scratch is an ASPCA Blog feature that highlights interesting news about farm animals and their welfare.
This might be a new low. Lawmakers in Kentucky got sneaky and added ag-gag language to a bill to ban gas chamber use at animal shelters—a bill that the ASPCA and other animal welfare groups had previously come out in support of. They’re trying to make it illegal to expose animal abuse on factory farms. The same thing is happening in Tennessee. Please take action if you live in TN or KY. Wherever you live, become a part of our Advocacy Brigade to stay updated.
With the help of our advocates and a multi-interest coalition, this year we’ve defeated ag-gag in New Hampshire and Indiana. Last year we defeated ag-gag bills in all 11 states that proposed them.
Finally, all 50 states will have felony-level penalties for animal cruelty now that South Dakota has passed Senate Bill 46—a huge milestone. But this and many other state laws exclude farm animals from protection. We will continue to work to close loopholes: All animal abuse should be taken seriously and punished appropriately.
The Food and Drug Administration says drug companies have agreed to comply with the agency’s recommendation to phase out antibiotics used to accelerate farm-animal growth. Unfortunately, the same drugs can just be relabeled and used to “prevent” the illnesses caused by inhumane, unsanitary conditions on factory farms. This won’t help animals or the growing number of children getting sick from antibiotic-resistant infections.
A Dutch advertising standards commission decided that McDonald’s in the Netherlands was wrong to say on its website that it does not use cheap, fast-growing broiler chickens, and forced the company to take down the language. But these are the same types of chickens used for meat in the States, too. Learn more about fast-growing chickens at TruthAboutChicken.org