Planet Chicken a grim world
Wants readers to think twice about their dinner
Peter Darbyshire, Special to The Province
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2007
The average person will eat hundreds, if not thousands, of chickens in a
lifetime. But most people know very little about how those tasty nuggets and
breasts and strips and drumsticks wound up on their dinner tables. Hattie
Ellis aims to change that in her new book, Planet Chicken: The Shameful
Story of the Bird on Your Plate. It's sure to ruin a lot of appetites.
Ellis takes readers through a history of chickens, explaining how they made
their way from wild jungle animals to domesticated farm animals and then to
crippled captives of modern-day chicken factories -- or as some call them,
concentration camps for chickens. It's a horrific journey for chickens and
It's important to note that Ellis is not some hemp-wearing vegan
propagandist out to liberate chickens from the oppressive yoke of their
capitalist masters. Quite the opposite, in fact -- Ellis is perfectly happy
to go to the supermarket and buy chickens to eat.
But she is concerned about the inhumane conditions those chickens must
endure before they're turned into dinner. And what a list of conditions it
is. Conveyer belts that whisk newly hatched chicks straight from their eggs
to towers of crates. Chickens bred to have breasts so large that their legs
cannot carry their weight, leaving them effectively immobile. Birds piled
together in such numbers that some starve, unable to reach the feeding
tubes, while others suffocate under the weight of their comrades. Grisly
deaths at the hands of men who bash them into walls or machines that cut
their throats -- not always successfully.
If the plight of the chickens doesn't bother you, Ellis also points out
there are huge health risks to humans as a result of this system. Many of
the birds develop infections or pick up viruses because of their conditions,
which are then spread "in the killing process, when the birds' guts gets
sprayed around" or in the water baths that are meant to clean the carcasses.
And farmers feeding their flocks antibiotics has helped lead to the spread
of antibiotic-resistant microbes, which is increasing the number of deaths
of humans. And then, of course, there's avian influenza, or bird flu, which
has the entire world frightened.
Ellis blames the usual culprit for all of this: big business and the profit
motive. As the business of chicken farming gets increasingly taken over by
large corporations, the worse problems get thanks to staffing cuts and the
religion of the assembly line.
So how can we reverse this trend and make our chickens -- and our meals --
healthy again? Easy, Ellis says: Keep the chickens happy. Take them out of
the battery cages and let them go free range and you'll see a range of
improvements. They'll be less likely to panic, which means they'll be less
likely to injure themselves through wild flapping or other frantic
activities. They'll be less likely to turn on each other when they have
space to move. They'll be less likely to catch diseases they can pass on to
each other or people.
In fact, chickens don't even have to be free range to be happy, Ellis says.
They can even be barn-reared or kept in "enhanced cages," as long as they
are able to engage in natural behaviours such as perching, pecking and dust
bathing, which chickens actually need to do to stay healthy.
As always, it comes down to consumer action. Buy organic from supermarkets
or buy local from farmers or butchers. Sure, it's a little more expensive,
but it's better for the chickens and, just as important, it's better for
Besides, happy birds usually taste better.
- If you like Planet Chicken, you may also want to check out Fast Food
Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal by Eric Schlosser or The 100-Mile
Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon, a Vancouver couple who set out to
eat only food grown and produced within 100 miles of their apartment for a
C The Vancouver Province 2007
Barry Kent MacKay
Animal Protection Institute