Time to rethink the way humans treat animals: analysis
On May 4 of each year, since 2005, a non-profit organization in the United States (United Poultry Concerns) celebrates International Day of Respect for Chickens. Spread the message that we need to rethink how we treat all feed animals, especially chickens, as poultry is the most widely consumed meat in the world.
The rest of the world needs to join them in celebrating May 4th as International Chicken Day.
Surprisingly, 60 billion meat chickens are raised each year worldwide. India produces around three billion, in an industry valued at about $ 20 billion. The perfected broiler and chicken industry in the United States has spread globally, and so have all its practices, both good and bad. In India, it has created economies of scale, provided livelihoods for thousands of farmers, and has become an important source of protein.
But animal rights activists have tried to sensitize people that chickens are arguably the most abused animals on the planet. Broilers and layers suffer a lot so that humans can obtain low-cost proteins. They also prevent other forms of wildlife from being caught and slaughtered for food.
From the moment they are born, these birds spend their entire lives in total confinement. Broilers are born in large incubators with hundreds of others; crowded with small, often dirty spaces. They feed and take drugs to become very large very quickly. They may be crippled by their own weight; they can suffer heart attacks and have organ failure. Many die because their baby-sized hearts cannot keep up with their adult-sized bodies. Sometimes they, especially laying hens, can’t even move; sometimes, their bodies grow outside and around their tight wire cages.
Broiler chickens are slaughtered around 42 days, although their natural shelf life may be 10 to 15 years. When they are ready to be killed, there is more agony waiting for them. They are handled more or less in small boxes on the way to the slaughterhouse. Sometimes they are submerged alive in hot water to remove their feathers. Sometimes when there is no market for them, like during this pandemic, they are simply buried alive in massive trenches.
However, there is sufficient evidence to show that chickens are curious, intelligent, and very social animals. Mother hens spend a lot of time teaching and vocalizing them. Some studies have shown that they can feel empathy and also jealousy. In experiments, they have shown that they can count and can even recognize human faces. They certainly feel fear and pain.
Maybe it’s time to rethink how chickens are raised, treated and eaten, too. There is a whole new generation of people who care where their food comes from and how it is grown. More people are becoming vegetarian. There is also a growing demand worldwide, and now in India, for human meat, free-range chickens and organic eggs.
The recent pandemic has reminded us once again, this time with deadly urgency, of the threat of zoonotic disease that has spread from the animal world to humans. People deserve to know more about the connection between industrial processes on poultry farms and the spread of disease.
We now know exactly how much our well-being is intertwined with that of animals and birds. Perhaps it is time to honor the sacrifice they, and especially the chickens, make for all of us, including vegetarians. Let’s mark May 4 on our calendars, not only for the partial end of the blockade, but for the end of the misery of the animals we depend on for food.
Rohini Nilekani is President, Arghyam
The opinions expressed are personal.