A Chicken Liberation Manifesto | Other Nations

United Poultry Concerns photo

“Yo, birdbrain!” “Hey, what are ya, a chicken?” Rather than taking offense to these common put-downs, I’m going to take them as compliments. Birds–let’s focus on chickens here–are smart. Social. Brave. They think and feel. In a lot of ways, they’re a lot like us. But it’s easy to forget that–if, indeed, we ever thought about it at all. Let’s think about it now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 is International Respect for Chickens Day, and the entire month of May is dedicated to growing greater respect for this much-abused, intensively factory farmed bird. Launched in 2005 by United Poultry Concerns (UPC), the day is designed “…to celebrate chickens and protest against the bleakness of their lives in farming operations.”

So how smart, social, and individual are chickens?

And this, from Dr. Chris Evans, professor of psychology at Macquarie University in Australia:

Mercy for Animals photo

This is bad news for industrial growers, who bank on us (literally and figuratively) seeing chickens as dumb, unthinking, unfeeling and, ultimately, meaningless as individuals. Times eight billion-plus.

It’s not wise to get too hung-up on intelligence, though (or that we share traits in common), when it’s actually sentience alone that matters. And chickens, unlike, say, chickpea plants, are sentient. New research shows that they display signs of empathy.

Let’s forego the litany of horrors endured by “layers” and “broilers” in factory farms. Most folks who are regulars at animals rights websites have the hateful facts seared into brains and hearts. But if you are new to exploring what you believe about the rights of animals, check here and here for details on the so-called life of an egg layer; for the painful, short life of a meat chicken, look here and here. If you prefer straight-forward narrative, try this and this.

When chickens were domesticated from jungle fowl, no one divined the modern factory farm of 8000 years hence. Those early southeast Asian wild fowl lived the good life, as nature intended: in a social setting arranged in a hierarchy (pecking order), scratching about in the sun, hunting insects, perching in leaves, dust bathing and just squawkin’ around. Mothers fearlessly protected precious chicks from predators. Today’s domestic chickens behave that way, too–when given the chance. But oh how slim that chance has become.

Dr. John Webster, author of Animal Welfare: Limping Towards Eden, calls the treatment of chickens raised for food “in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.” And we haven’t even mentioned the quarter billion male chicks ground up alive every year–worthless to the egg industry.

I entered “chicken wings” in a search engine and was nine pages in before I found a hit that didn’t pertain to eating (and it dealt with a lab experiment. Imagine having your body so thoroughly hijacked!) That little exercise drove home another point–about how corporate agendas shape our lives and rely on our continued, mindless participation to support their bottom line. To this end, and illustrating a perverse coupling of human appetites, I learned that an NFL lockout will “devastate” the wing industry. Bring it on!

A Chicken Liberation Manifesto for May 4th and beyond: Wings are for flapping! “De-beaking” is a word that should not exist. The ability to stand up straight, stretch out, and breathe fresh air are rights not to be withheld from any sentient creature–chicken, human, or otherwise. Empty the battery cages! Consign factory farming to a sad footnote in the human story. The question for our species should not be, “Breast or thigh?” but, “Suffering or compassion?”
7 substitutes for eggs in baking: video here!
Update: The NFL lockout has been resolved.

This post also appears at animal law blog, Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Which animals would St. Francis bless today?

You don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the Blessing of the Animals offered by churches during October, usually near the Oct. 4th Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals. In fact, non-Catholic denominations frequently conduct their own animal blessing services, and why not–what’s not to love?!? Heck, you don’t even have to be religious to find beauty in this simple, compassionate gesture.

Francis started life in the one per cent, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. But a vision redirected his trajectory, and he subsequently lived his life in service to the poorest of the 99%, showing a special affinity for animals, whom he considered his brothers and sisters.

It’s also told that the good Saint intervened on behalf of townspeople who were terrorized by a ferocious wolf whose constant killing was motivated by hunger. Francis tracked him and, upon finding the wolf, made peace between him and the people, ultimately blessing the wolf. (How one wishes for a Second Coming of Francis here in Montana before the wolf hunting and trapping orgy begins!)

According to CBS News in New York, “(a) llama, a mini horse, falcons, dogs and even a camel were offered blessings at the Morningside Heights church to celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.” (See Ted the camel, a sanctuary resident, here.) Cats, turtles, goats, and no less than a kangaroo have been blessed.

But there’s a divide as stark as heaven and hell between the animals we know and love as individuals and the nameless billions–no less individuals than our beloved cats and dogs–who endure lives of abject suffering and face brutal deaths in our nation’s factory farms. What do we make of this but that our species has developed the ability to compartmentalize our regard for other animals: companions vs. farmed animals; furry kids vs. food; the animals we treat with kindness vs. the animals we eat in blindness. Matthew Scully, writing in Dominion: The power of man, the suffering of animals, and the call to mercy, puts it thus:

Pope John Paul II, during World Environment Day in 1982, said “It is my hope that the inspiration of Saint Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of ‘fraternity’ with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created.” A Methodist church in Georgia wrote that St. Francis “lived his life with a profound love and respect for all creatures, human and animal alike.”

Regardless of our individual religious beliefs–or lack of them–we can surely agree that, when we look beyond our own dear companions, our kinship with animals has suffered. As a species, our love and respect is granted selectively. We exploit them in the show ring, the circus, the rodeo arena, the zoo; we breed them irresponsibly then kill the excess; we lock them away in the research lab; we condemn them to hellish existences without a shred of kindness then eat their tortured bodies and wear the skins that never knew a gentle touch.

If ever a saint was needed to intervene on behalf of animals, it is now.

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