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.
Nearly 150 years ago, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh stopped a cart driver from beating his horse, resulting in the first successful arrest for horse mistreatment on April 26, 1866. Protecting horses has been a core part of our mission ever since, but we also rely on a strong public voice—people playing direct roles in their communities and through government to save these majestic, loving animals from cruelty and neglect.
This commitment is the driving force behind Help a Horse Day, our nationwide contest on April 26 awarding five $10,000 grants to equine rescues and sanctuaries that succeed in saving lives and raising awareness about at-risk horses. More than 80 groups in 32 states are participating—probably some near you. Their ideas include parading rescued horses down a local main street, having a community “horse wash,” running a horse-themed carnival, and hosting a rally on the steps of a state capitol.
Behind these celebrations is a sad truth: Thousands of equines become homeless each year through no fault of their own, and many end up at livestock auctions where they’re purchased for slaughter overseas. Last year, more than 144,000 American horses were sent to cruel deaths by foreign industries that produce unsafe food for consumers.
This is why ending horse slaughter has been one of our strongest recent campaigns. While the practice is effectively banned in the United States, there’s still more we can do to permanently ensure no horses are slaughtered here, or sent overseas for slaughter. You can help by actively supporting the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, bipartisan legislation that would end the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, once and for all.
Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption, and it’s no wonder. These are typically young and healthy animals that could go on to live productive lives. Instead, they’re often transported without food, water, or rest in dangerously overcrowded trailers. Some are seriously injured or killed in transit. The slaughter process is also inherently cruel, as horses are difficult to stun properly and may be repeatedly injured or stabbed during the procedure.
Horse soring—nothing short of the deliberate infliction of pain—is another reprehensible practice that requires our immediate attention and action. Soring is when trainers use purposefully painful methods, including filing hooves down to the nerve and inserting sharp objects into the hooves, to force horses to exaggerate their gait with high strides. You may have seen this at exhibitions and contests, but that high step is actually the horse’s flinching attempt to avoid pain. Some contests actually reward this tragic training with medals and ribbons.
Finally, there’s the equine event we’re all familiar with: horse racing. However you feel about the sport, there’s no denying that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is unacceptable. The Jockey Club, the organization that maintains the breed registry for all thoroughbred horses in North America, released a study which determined that racehorses in the United States die at a rate twice that of any other country. Horse welfare advocates know that lax drug rules are partly responsible, and have called for a ban on drug use for horses on race day, including a permanent ban for repeat offenders. Unlike human athletes, horses have no say in what’s injected into them for the purpose of glory and human profit.
Unscrupulous trainers take full advantage of America’s weak legal protections for horses, routinely and repeatedly violating medication rules. While the European Union, the Middle East and Japan all ban the use of drugs for horses on race days, the United States has no uniform rules on the practice.
Again, there’s good legislation waiting in the wings; all it needs is strong public support. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing and improve the safety and integrity of the sport. The bill would also create “one and done” and “three strikes, you’re out” penalties for strong enforcement. Learn how you can help protect racehorses by supporting this legislation.
Our commitment to horses is steadfast, and takes more forms than words alone. Last year, the ASPCA awarded $1.4 million in grants to support equine rescues and sanctuaries in 43 states and the District of Columbia. The grants were primarily awarded as part of the ASPCA Equine Fund, which provides life-saving resources including financial help, in-person and online training, and sharing of best practices to non-profit equine welfare organizations in America.
Just last week, authorities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, along with the ASPCA raided eight crime scenes, seizing 23 suspected fighting dogs. It’s a chilling and sad reminder of how prevalent dog fighting is in America today and a further indication of why it was necessary for us to declare April 8 National Dog Fighting Awareness Day.
Even though dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, the ASPCA’s participation in two major multi-state raids in the last year alone refute any claim that dog fighting is a rare activity, or that it’s restricted to certain parts of the country or people with whom we wouldn’t normally associate.
The truth is dog fighting is not a relic of times past or random, isolated incidents. In addition to last week’s Wisconsin dog fighting case, nearly 100 dogs were seized in a multi-state raid just over a year ago across Texas, Missouri and Kansas. Just eight months ago, hundreds of dogs were seized in what is believed to be the second largest dog fighting case in U.S. history across Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas.
The truth is dog fighting is not a “southern problem.” The blood sport has been reported in urban, suburban and rural settings in all regions of the country.
The truth is dog fighting participants represent people you may know. Lawyers, judges, teachers, high school football coaches and veterinary technicians have all been arrested in connection to dog fighting. People involved in dog fighting also span racial and socioeconomic boundaries.
These are the relatively pleasant truths. Unpleasant truths include stories of animals being routinely and viciously attacked, beaten, electrocuted and drowned. They include stories about “rape stands” used for breeding, and “bait dogs” used for fighting practice. Bait dogs are typically stolen pets or dogs that refuse to fight. Their teeth are often removed so that other dogs can practice fighting without getting injured.
As I wrote recently, it’s not enough to see dog fighting as just a crime. Society discourages, yet tolerates a number of crimes—some are even glorified. But dog fighting is a deep stain on our national character, a cultural embarrassment we should all feel. This is not about just locking up bad guys; this is about doing everything we can to bring this nightmarish practice to an end. We can’t rest until it does.
That’s why National Dog Fighting Awareness Day isn’t just another way to fill a calendar box; it’s a necessary measure to help stop one of the most horrific forms of animal abuse imaginable.
Of course you probably don’t know about dog fights going on where you live. But chances are you know some children, and can talk to them about the value animals bring to our lives, as well as the humanity we owe them in return.
ASPCA President & CEO Matthew Bershadker responds in a NY Post op-edto the Jets’ signing of Michael Vick.
On Friday, the New York Jets signed Michael Vick to a one-year contract worth $5 million. His return on that investment is unknown, and frankly I don’t care.
Vick is free to do as he pleases both on the football field and off. But one thing he can’t do is absolve himself of his direct participation in horrific and fatal animal torture and abuse. And whether he takes our home team to the Super Bowl or spends the season riding the pine, we’re not obligated to forgive, and it’s essential we don’t forget.
History bears repeating: The Michael Vick investigation began in April 2007 with a search of Bad Newz Kennels, located on Vick’s Virginia property. We at the ASPCA were involved early on, assisting in the recovery and analysis of forensic evidence from Vick’s property, including carcasses and skeletal remains of numerous dogs.
The ASPCA also led a team of certified applied animal behaviorists in behavior evaluations of the rescued dogs, making recommendations to the USDA and US Attorney's Office regarding the dispositions of the dogs.
It became clear over the course of the investigation that this was not a crime of passion or a case of obliviousness. Michael Vick was fully involved in a six-year pattern of illegal activity that included dogs being savagely electrocuted, drowned, and beaten to death.
We fully acknowledge Vick has "done his time" and even participated in some public outreach, but that does not erase the crime.
Stopping animal cruelty is difficult enough when it’s done in secret, but when it happens legally and out in the open, ending it can be just as challenging. A tragic case in point: Greyhound racing, a cruel and senseless “sport” that not only kills or injures thousands of dogs every year across the country, but loses money for the places that operate them. State governments are often losers too, having to spend more to regulate the sport than they get back in revenue. Florida alone lost between $1 million and $3.3 million on Greyhound racing in 2012.
So why is this abomination still in business? Because for some, Greyhound racing is still big business.
Greyhounds begin their lives on breeding farms, where only a select few actually become racing dogs. Unwanted pups, those who assessed as unfit for racing, are killed or sometimes sent to laboratories, which use them in experiments. Those chosen for the sport spend most of their lives stacked in double-decker cages in warehouse-style kennels for 20 or more hours a day. Most of the areas Greyhounds are kept are not heated or air-conditioned, causing many to suffer during severe weather temperatures. Many also suffer from fleas, ticks and internal parasites.
While this is enough for most states to turn their back on the ugly practice, Greyhound racing still exists in seven states. More than half of all active American tracks, 12 of 21, are in Florida, where a ridiculous law requires gambling institutions to maintain and run dog racing facilities. You read that right: If you want to run a gaming institution in Florida, you must, by law, race dogs as well. More about that oddity in a moment, but first know that when these dogs are sent out to race, many are actually sent to their deaths.
Making use of a recent Florida law requiring that dog track deaths be reported, the Greyhound protection group GREY2K USA, with ASPCA help, put out a report last month revealing that 74 racing Greyhounds died at 10 different racetracks in Florida over the last seven months of last year. Put another way, from June to December, a Greyhound died from a racing-related injury every three days.
And only two months into 2014, there have already been an astounding 18 deaths at Florida Greyhound tracks. If this shocking rate of deaths continues, Florida tracks will have more than 100 Greyhound deaths by the end of the year.
Causes of Greyhound deaths included including fatal injuries suffered during or after races, and heat stroke. Fifty-one of the dead Greyhounds were under three years old; the two youngest dogs were both 17 months old. These majestic, perfectly healthy, gentle and loving animals were essentially run to death.