Nicholas Kristof: Abusing Chickens We Eat


Ann sent us this opinion article from The New York Times. The author, Nicholas Kristof, gives us an in depth look at Perdue’s chickens, starting with what the company chairman says, and ending with what the company really does.

“Doing the right thing is things like treating your chickens humanely,” Jim Perdue, the company’s chairman, says in a promotional video. The company’s labels carry a seal of approval from the Department of Agriculture asserting that the bird was “raised cage free,” and sometimes “humanely raised,” although it says it is phasing that one out

Enter Craig Watts, 48, a North Carolina farmer who says he raises about 720,000 chickens each year for Perdue. He watched the video of Jim Perdue and had an attack of conscience. “My jaw just dropped,” he said. “It couldn’t get any further from the truth.”

So Watts opened his four chicken barns to show how a Perdue chicken lives. It’s a hellish sight.

Watts invited an animal welfare group, Compassion in World Farming, to document conditions, and it has spent months doing so. The organization has just released the resulting video on its website.

I haven’t watched the video, but I’m just going to give a trigger warning for graphic imagery. Kristof describes what he sees underneath the embedded video.

Most shocking is that the bellies of nearly all the chickens have lost their feathers and are raw, angry, red flesh. The entire underside of almost every chicken is a huge, continuous bedsore. As a farmboy who raised small flocks of chickens and geese, I never saw anything like that.

Though these poor birds are suffering and continue to suffer, Kristof himself comes to an epiphany that may point him in a kinder direction in the future:

Torture a single chicken and you risk arrest. Abuse hundreds of thousands of chickens for their entire lives? That’s agribusiness.

I don’t know where to draw the lines. But when chickens have huge open bedsores on their undersides, I wonder if that isn’t less animal husbandry than animal abuse.

These kinds of first person accounts of transformation are heartening to read, and they’re what we’re working towards every day at Alliance for Animals and the Environment. Thanks Ann, for sharing! If you can, send an email to the New York Times ( thanking them for their coverage, comment on the article, or share directly from the website through facebook or twitter (h/t to DawnWatch).

If you’re interested in learning more about chicken welfare, I recommend this article entitled Detailed Discussions of Legal Protections of the Domestic Chicken in the United States and Europe. I know that sounds wordy, but here is the summary:

From an animal welfare perspective, there are no federal regulations regarding the breeding, rearing, sale, transportation, or slaughter of chickens.

Chickens are exempt from the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Slaughter Act, and most transportation laws at state and federal levels. Wisconsin is slightly better than most!:

Only four states, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Connecticut specifically require the humane transportation of poultry, but the states statutes are often vaguely worded and the fines for violating these statutes are usually negligible.

If you are having trouble switching from chicken to veggie chicken, the Alliance has a brand new vegan mentor program. Just email and we’ll set you up with a vegan friend in the Madison area! Soon, you’ll be feeling great, loving the food you eat, and completely comfortable getting the chicken off of your plate and into your arms.