Andrew Kenny believed that the morality of animal rights would become the greatest moral issue of the 21st century, but he was sadly disappointed: if anything, the opposite seems to be happening. Intensive factory farming of animals, the worst animal cruelty in history, seems to be getting worse. He notes the brutality of battery-operated chickens and questions the usual reason given for the practice – that poultry is a cheap source of protein for the poor. And local chicken farmers are fighting a familiar battle against free trade protectionism with local importers. “Fair trade, not free trade” is one of the most annoying slogans I know. He argues that we shouldn’t trade freely with countries that engage in “predatory dumping” of their reduced or surplus products, but usually this is just an excuse to stop exporters from giving us cheaper or better products than domestic producers. When it comes to chickens, the importation of chickens reared with extreme cruelty should be stopped – but the problem seems to be no different from the disgusting chicken farming in South Africa and abroad. Read below to learn more. – Sandra Lawrence
Chicken wars and animal rights
By Andrew Kenny *
The two South African fighters are engaged in an intense chicken war that rages through our media and appears as the letters pages of our main battleground newspapers. The two opposing sides are local producers and local importers of chicken products, who are fighting each other over import tariffs – protecting local farmers.
I know exactly where I stand on this economic issue, but I couldn’t care less. More troubling is the third party: the chickens. I think that battery farming of chickens is a moral abomination, and if I were Lord of the Universe, I would absolutely ban it.
A few years ago, I predicted that animal rights would become the great moral issue of the 21st century, as slavery was in the 19th century. So far, my prediction has not come true. In stark contrast, intensive factory farming of animals, the worst animal cruelty in history, is getting worse. This doesn’t bother most people. Along with spiritual issues, there are also economic issues here, but for me the spiritual ones are more important. I think slavery was evil, or rather it is evil because it still exists in some countries. Britain ended the Atlantic slave trade, from which it had made a fortune, not for economic reasons, but for moral reasons. The US fought a terrible civil war to end slavery for moral, not economic, reasons. When slavery was abolished (with the 13th Amendment passed by the US Congress in January 1865), slave labor was still very profitable on the cotton plantations of the South. Battery farming should be stopped for moral reasons, even if it made economic sense – I don’t think it does.
Local chicken farmers are fighting a familiar fight against free trade protectionism against local importers. “Fair trade, not free trade” is one of the most annoying slogans I know. This is what Oxfam, Greenpeace and Donald Trump say. He argues that we should not trade freely with countries that engage in “predatory dumping” of their reduced or surplus products, or exploit their labor or abuse the environment. Usually this is an excuse to stop exporters from providing us with cheaper and better quality products than local producers. However, when it comes to chickens, I think I should try to stop the importation of chickens that are raised with extreme cruelty. The problem is that there is no difference between raising ugly chickens in South Africa and abroad.
Fifty years ago, I gave up meat and poultry as a gesture of support for the animals we abuse. Since then I have been reflecting on my own hypocrisy and inconsistency. I eat fish, eggs and dairy, all of which cause animal suffering and violence. The death of a fish, whether by hook or net, is far worse than the death of an animal in the slaughterhouse. The hook is torn through the fish’s mouth, sometimes through its eye, and the fish is taken out of its natural element and dragged into the terrible element of air, where it can take half an hour to die. . (Ironically, some people view fishing as a mild pastime.)
I spent a week on a trawler and saw fish dying on its decks. When a still-digesting fish is pulled from the high-pressure depths, the expanding gases in its digestive system tear its organs out of its mouth and anus like eerie pink balloons. All I can say is that the fish probably lived a decent life before it died a horrible death – although with fish farming this may not be the case. Dairy farming requires that a young calf be taken from its mother so that its milk goes to people and not to its children. Egg production in battery farms is very cruel. I only buy free range eggs, but I might be fooling myself about how happy the chickens are here.
In 1973, I worked as a laborer for two months on a half-battery pig farm in England. I wanted to see for myself. It was horrible, the pigs were mostly locked in concrete sheds, except for the breeder chickens and boars, they never saw the light of day. I had to help the farmer tame the little piglets in front of their mother. I had to hold the piglet upside down by its hind legs so the farmer could cut off its purple face-like testicles and throw it away. Mother ate them often. I’m told modern battery hog farms are worse. I saw that pigs were intelligent, dignified, naturally very clean animals, but forced to suffer ugliness and indignity.
Battery farming of chickens is worst of all and even worse for broilers (chickens for meat) than egg layers. In nature, a chicken can live for seven years. On a battery farm, a broiler lives for seven weeks – and these seven weeks are nothing but fear, pain, ugliness, humiliation, disease and darkness. The little cubs are taken in crates to huge, damp barns where they never see sunlight, never sit on grass or trees, never know their mothers and fathers, and are crammed together in horrible conditions. They are fed and raised to grow as fast as possible so that their heavy, overweight bodies are crippling. Egg layers can live for a year. Sometimes each was squeezed into a small cage so that he could barely lie down. This is now less common in most countries around the world.
The main argument in favor of battery farms, used by both our local producers and importers, is that they provide cheap, tasty protein for poor people. Kentucky Fried Chicken seems to be popular all over the world. Friends tell me it’s delicious. I do not doubt the taste; the economics I do. Civilization began with agriculture about ten thousand years ago, and much of that agriculture was based on grain. In the thousands of years since then, we have added very little new to wheat, rice, corn, and other ancient ones.
Today, less than half of the world’s grain goes to feed people. Some go to biofuels, which I think is wasteful and immoral. Much of this goes into animal feed, making it very inefficient. Only 3% of the calories in the grain that cattle eat goes into the meat they make. Poultry is 12% better for meat and 22% better for eggs, but they are still inefficient. If all the grain went directly to feed people, we could feed twice as many people.
Humans like the taste of meat, and there is no doubt that modern humans could not have evolved without eating meat. People are monkeys. More precisely, we are a species of chimpanzee. We diverged from the Common Chimpanzee about five million years ago, and our main differences are a larger brain, smaller jaw, and shorter intestines. By eating meat and using fire (which was discovered long before the appearance of modern humans, Homo sapiens), we needed less chewing and smaller digestive organs, which allowed us to have larger brains. Chimpanzees also eat meat, but less than us and they don’t cook it. A purely vegetarian diet is not natural for humans.
Vegans tell us that we can be perfectly healthy without any animal protein, but I would like to see more evidence for this. (Diet is a complicated subject.) Maybe some animal protein in eggs and cheese and stuff like that requires some animals to eat, or anyway. But there are better ways to feed cattle than grain.
I am told that England’s most important crop is grass, and grass-fed cattle make better meat than grain-fed cattle. I am convinced that chickens in free-range farms produce better meat and eggs than those in battery farms. You should compare the areas required for free farms with the areas required to grow grain for battery farms and them.
Although the terrain in various parts of the world, including South Africa, is not suitable for agriculture, it is suitable for livestock, including cattle and sheep. I know a pig farmer in Cape Town where the pigs graze and root in open fields, which seems fine to me. If I were Lord of the Universe and banned all factory farming, would poor people be able to buy meat from grass-fed cattle and chicken and eggs from free-range farms? Surely there would be fewer chickens in the world. Their meat and eggs would be more expensive, but I have no doubt that it would help meet the animal protein needs of the poor.
Should we care for some animals more than others? Of course! One of the stupidest sayings is that “all life is precious”. No one believes it. 99.9% of living things are unicellular bacteria and viruses. No one thinks they are all valuable. Some of them are essential to higher animals like us, but most are not, and many are dangerous. We pride ourselves on cutting them. “Dettol kills 99% of household germs!” We would like to destroy the HIV virus. Some of us don’t even like advanced animals like rats and snakes, but we like animals that we find charming, noble, or cute. I doubt anyone is in favor of farming gorillas for their meat or pandas for their fur. Chickens are very advanced animals, they have a brain structure that we do not understand. In terms of scientific classification, birds are dinosaurs just as humans are monkeys.
When the great extinction about 66 million years ago wiped out the big dinosaurs, some of the smaller dinosaurs, which required less food and found shelter more easily, survived and evolved into birds. The dinosaur’s scales became the bird’s feathers, keeping it warm and allowing it to fly by accident. Compare the rooster outside with the picture of Tyrannosaurus Rex. A friend of mine had free range chickens on their small farm in Cape Town. He told me that he found them to be very intelligent and have a complex social and defensive structure; chickens perched on high places and appointed a watchman to wait for danger above. We ignore most bacteria, even flies and snails. We have to take care of the chickens.
It is estimated that there are three times more chickens than people in the world. If I had my way, most of them would be gone. In response to the most popular question in literature, it is often better to be absent. I should not exist any more than I should exist in the hellish life of a battery chicken.
- Andrew Kenny is a writer, engineer and classical liberal.
- The views of the writer are not necessarily those of the writer Everyday Friend or IRR. Support if you like what you read Everyday Friend.
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