Why Are We Laughing at Things That Cause Chickens to Suffer?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - 2:00pm
Why Are We Laughing At Things That Cause Chickens to Suffer?

By Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President & CEO

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.

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victor S.

Shame on them.

Erin S.

Not only are they bred to grow so fast, they suffer horrific cruelty from birth to death...I've seen documentaries that reveal how they have their beaks and toenails cut off at birth, being kicked around, beaten and stomped on, and probably the worst of all - male chicks discarded and THROWN ALIVE INTO GRINDING MACHINES! How can people abuse animals without a care in the world?

Random Person

How dare they do that to innocent chickens!!!


There is so much ignorance in the world and cruelty to animals of all kinds is the worst. I cannot fathom in my wildest dreams how people hurt animals but they do -- and joke about it. Remember that thug that brutally kicked the cat? His mother said, Oh, the cat didn't die. His brother wrote an editorial for a NYC newspaper: If he had been a white boy, you would not have criticized him the way you did. This was sadistic abuse and it is belittled and excused. This is the shame of animal abuse. People who abuse animals feel no shame.


Society is so self involved, most people only think of their small circle and do not care how the food is produced,that it was once a living being. there is NO respect for other beings and now is the time to change. It starts in the home especially with the mother who must be educated to see beyond her small tiny world.
Animals deserve better treatment that they are receiving and we need to step up and speak out.


It never ceases to amaze me how cruel Human beings are and never the less they disgust me. I am a vegetarian and soon to become vegan and it is bad enough how people treat animals on factory farms and slaughterhouses. Those people will get their day in hell. As I have said before The greatness of a nation and moral progress can be judged by the treatment of animals. Ghandi


I did not write this quote either but is another one I truly believe. Until he extends his compassion for all living things man himself will not find peace. I do not know who wrote that but it is so true.


I can't believe people abuse the welfare of animals to save a few $$!

RJ Gosnell

Matt, I too was shocked (and saddened) when I first saw the Hardy's commercials. I have been looking to find anyone who felt as I did, that they were not funny. I enjoyed reading your article and, as a supporter of the ASPCA, feel that Hardy's should apologize for the offensiveness of these commercials, which seem to be in heavy rotation here in GA. Thanks for standing up for what is RIGHT!