Beak to Beak

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Beak to Beak

By Mark Goldfarb,

Without death there can be no life. Yet we take the gift of death for granted.

In the year 2004 over 100 million chickens, ducks and turkeys were massacred worldwide to control the spread of avian influenza (bird flu). They were burned, drowned, gassed, poisoned, kicked to death, strangled, shot or stuffed into plastic bags and buried alive in an effort to contain the inevitable pandemic that lies just around the corner and threatens the health not only of birds but other members of the animal kingdom, including humans.

This year in the United States alone, 300 million hens will be raised to lay eggs. Nine billion chickens will be raised and slaughtered for meat. The overwhelming majority of these birds – 98% of them – are factory-farmed: enslaved flocks of up to 125,000 housed in soccer-field sized sheds equipped with battery cages ideally engineered to breed disease and psychosis. From their first inbreath to their last outbreath an exclusive section of hell measuring 8 inches long by 8 inches wide by 15 inches high will be a hen’s home and sole horizon. Denied light, space, the freedom to love and care for their young and virtually every other activity endemic to their nature; force-fed food products inimical to the species, dosed with pharmaceuticals toxic to their imperiled immune system, and as a final insult massively sprayed with antibiotics and pesticides without which they could never survive let alone grow fat in such wretched conditions – by slaughter time they are nothing more than crippled, infected bags of blood and bones. This is their beginning, middle and ending. It is not a scene you will see portrayed in a Disney movie.

The deprivations, degradations and depredations inflicted upon them point to a profound lack of respect humans have for non-human life, and I have not even touched upon the pollutive and denaturing processes to which their carcasses are subjected betwixt the butcher and your local grocery or restaurant – practices that compromise human health and bespeak an abysmal contempt for human life. What price do we pay for the self-conferred right to raise and eat poultry? It is steeper than you might imagine. If you grasp the unsentimental, hardboiled fact that we are what we eat, you cannot fail to fathom its corollary: we are no less what what we devour devours.

Some people, and I am one of them, would say the way these birds live is not worth living. They are better off dead than alive and confined to the ignominious squalor and abuse which the world’s agricultural, nutritional and scientific experts conjoined with the feeble, unspoken acquiescence of their constituents endorse as essential and extol as humane. Continually tested and continually found wanting, we have given chickens more reasons then they need to rise up. If they are waiting for the barbarians they need wait no longer. They have arrived. And they are us.

Now, thinking like someone who does care, read Karen Davis's The Battery Hen: Her Life Is Not For The Birds.

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