Food for Thought: The Chicken in the Factory Farm

Skip this part if the only time you want to think about chicken is when it is sizzling on the grill, and when you are deciding which recipe to make for dinner. In this section, I will briefly highlight common conditions found on factory farms for chickens, and some issues you may want to consider the next time you reach for that foam tray of beautifully pink, boneless skinless for only $2.99 per pound. There’s no getting around it: this can be distressing, so be forewarned.

The Humane Society of the United states reported that some problems faced by chickens in industrial production systems include crowded confinement, nearly continuous artificial lighting, poor air quality, stressful handling and transportation, and inadequate stunning and slaughter procedures. Broiler chickens are bred for rapid growth, which can lead to painful skeletal conditions and metabolic disorders. Even chickens designated as “free-range” are not guaranteed to have a better quality of life because usage of this term is not regulated and may be essentially meaningless.

Meanwhile, workers in the United States poultry industry also confront hazardous work conditions, and, according to Human Rights Watch, employers who “deny workers’ compensation to employees injured on the job, intimidate and fire workers who try to unionize, and exploit workers’ immigrant status in order to keep them quiet about abuses.”

Finally, consumers and the environment pay the hidden costs of this type of factory farming system. “Superbugs” that are resistant to antibiotics. Salmonella and Campylobacter sickening consumers. Meat tainted with unnecessary antibiotics, pathogens, arsenic, caffeine, antihistamines and aspirin. Water contaminated with the waste products of factory farms.

While some reforms are being made, such as legislation requiring lower density confinement or no confinement, decrease in debeaking, recommendations to increase the number of hours chickens experience darkness, new technologies for catching, transporting, and slaughtering chickens, the injury and illness rate of workers has decreased, voluntary use of antibiotics solely to combat infections, a great deal still needs to be done to insure the humane treatment of the poultry, assure the dignity of workers on the farms and in the processing plants, and the safety of the consumer.

It may seem antithetical to some readers for a cookbook to contain such frankly unappetizing information. However, after a lot of discussion and thought, I decided to do it. As an unrepentant omnivore, I also feel it is important to make as many informed choices as possible about the food I prepare and eat. Knowing the depressing truth about the food production system of which I am a part is part of it. So how do I square it with my conscience? The chicken I purchase comes from smaller scale producers who advertise their chicken as natural, free range, and not fed unnecessary antibiotics. I buy organic chicken when I feel like I can afford it. I know my grocery has buyers who try to make informed choices about the products they carry. And I try to eat smaller and fewer servings of meat, and I try to fully appreciate the meat I do eat. Everyone must make choices that feel right for themselves and their families. I offer this information with a spirit of humility and acceptance for the choices others make.


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