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?
The demand for organic products seems to be growing by the day. But what does the “organic” label on meat, dairy and egg products mean for farm animals? And what do Americans think it means?
To find out, the ASPCA did some polling to determine whether people's perceptions of how animals are treated on organic farms measure up with reality. We found some striking discrepancies—for instance, 67% of people who buy animal products labeled “organic” believe that animals on organic farms have significantly more space to move than those raised on non-organic farms. The truth? The government’s organic standards do not require a minimum amount of space per animal.
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Confine, medicate and mass-produce: This is the basic operating strategy of America’s factory farms, and it’s very bad news for farm animals. Today the ASPCA is releasing a new animated video that tells the chilling story of how modern, industrial agriculture practices defy common sense and cut corners—and how the industry follows that up by pushing for state laws to hide the rampant animal cruelty.
“Ag-gag” bills are attempts to criminalize efforts to investigate illegal or unethical activities—like animal abuse, food safety violations and unsafe working conditions—taking place on factory farms. Ag-gag legislation is sweeping this country like an epidemic, with almost half of all states having proposed these unconstitutional bills that would punish those who would speak truth to power. The ASPCA is fighting to block these bills wherever they appear.
Whistleblowers have brought to light horrendous cruelty and sickening conditions on factory farms. The American public deserves to know where our food is coming from, and the ASPCA is committed to improving the lives of farm animals—but these fundamental protections can’t be achieved when it’s a crime to simply expose the truth. It’s time for lawmakers to stop protecting Big Ag and start supporting American values like transparency, a safe food supply and animal welfare.
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