Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has just signed into law the strongest protections for egg-laying hens ever passed in any state legislature. This historic win will benefit approximately eight million hens each year, freeing them from cage confinement by the end of 2023. The measure builds upon our previous work in states like California and Massachusetts where voters have passed transformational ballot measures against the cage confinement of farm animals in recent years.
Washington’s new law phases out the production and sale of eggs from caged hens, regardless of where the eggs were produced.
In a typical cage facility, each bird has less space than the dimensions of an iPad on which to live her entire life. While cage-free does not equal cruelty-free, this measure will significantly reduce the birds’ suffering. In addition to banning cages and requiring more space per bird, the law also mandates that hens be provided with vital enrichments, including scratch areas, perches, nesting and dust bathing areas.
The HSUS has spearheaded the passage of this law and others in a dozen states — from Florida to Ohio to Arizona — to eliminate extreme confinement. These successes bolster the work we have done with some of the largest food corporations in recent years, both in the United States and globally, to end cruel cage confinement practices by their suppliers. As a result, lawmakers and corporations are increasingly realizing that the future is cage-free.
In Washington, we partnered with Democratic and Republican legislators, key stakeholders in the agricultural sector, and other leading animal protection groups to ensure the bill’s success. It is a remarkable illustration of how good people in all walks of life can come together to create lasting and transformational change for animals. The HSUS will continue to work with lawmakers, non-government organizations, volunteers, donors and other members of the public to continue paving the way toward this more humane reality.
Let’s take a moment to celebrate today’s remarkable win for animals. But let’s also keep in mind that billions of farm animals around the world are still suffering in cruel cages. The laws in Washington, California and Massachusetts set a great precedent for other states and countries to follow, and further support corporate policy commitments reforming how farm animals are raised. Let’s keep the momentum going as we work toward the day when no farm animal is locked in a cage.
WASHINGTON (AP) — EDITOR’S NOTE: This release is being reissued as an expansion of the March 21, 2019 recall, which consisted of 69,093 pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat chicken strip products. The scope of this recall expansion now includes more information and an additional 11,760,424 pounds of product.
Tyson Foods, Inc., a Rogers, Ark. establishment, is recalling approximately 11,829,517 million pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat chicken strip products that may be contaminated with extraneous materials, specifically pieces of metal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.
The frozen, ready-to-eat chicken strip items were produced on various dates from Oct. 1, 2018 through March 8, 2019 and have “Use By Dates” of Oct. 1, 2019 through March 7, 2020. The chart contains a list of the products subject to recall.
The products subject to recall bear establishment number “P-7221” on the back of the product package. These items were shipped to retail and Department of Defense locations nationwide, for institutional use nationwide and to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The problem was discovered when FSIS received two consumer complaints of extraneous material in the chicken strip products. FSIS is now aware of six complaints during this time frame involving similar pieces of metal with three alleging oral injury.
Anyone concerned about an injury or illness should contact a healthcare provider.
FSIS is concerned that some product may be in consumers’ freezers. Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.
FSIS routinely conducts recall effectiveness checks to verify recalling firms notify their customers of the recall and that steps are taken to make certain that the product is no longer available to consumers. When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on the FSIS website at www.fsis.usda.gov/recalls.
Consumers with questions about the recall can contact Tyson Foods Consumer Relations at 1-866-886-8456. Members of the media with questions about the recall can contact Worth Sparkman, Public Relations Manager, Tyson Foods, Inc., at Worth.Sparkman@Tyson.com (479) 290-6358.
Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov or via smartphone at m.askkaren.gov.
The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday.
Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. The online Electronic Consumer Complaint Monitoring System can be accessed 24 hours a day at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/reportproblem.
By Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns
This article originally appeared March 28, 2018.
*Easter Egg Hunt and Egg Gathering*
The association of a hen’s egg with Easter and Spring survives ironically
annual children’s Easter Egg Hunt, for the origin of this ritual has been
Traditionally, the finding of eggs was identified with the finding of
The search for eggs was part of farm life, because a free hen sensibly lays
eggs in a sheltered and secluded spot. Today’s children hunt for eggs that
laid by a hen imprisoned in a mechanized building, most likely in a wire
The widespread disappearance of the home chicken flock in the 1950s ended
gathering of eggs laid by a hen in the place she chose for her nest.
Page Smith writes in *The Chicken Book*, “My contemporaries who have such
memories of chickens from the unpleasant chores of their youth had
already the consequences of putting living creatures in circumstances that
inherently uncongenial to them.”
Wilbor Wilson provides the background to this change in *American Poultry*
*History*. He writes: “As the size of poultry ranches increased, the chore
gathering became drudgery instead of pleasure. Rollaway nests with sloping
floors made of hardware cloth offered a partial solution, but the number of
floor eggs increased when the hens did not readily adopt the wire-floored
This changed with development of the cage system which left the hen no
*The Hen as a Symbol of Motherhood*
In our day, the hen has been degraded to an “egg machine.” In previous eras
embodied the essence of motherhood. The First Century CE Roman historian and
biographer Plutarch wrote of the mother hen in *De amore parentis* [
*love*]: “What of the hens whom we observe each day at home, with what care
assiduity they govern and guard their chicks? Some let down their wings for
chicks to come under; others arch their backs for them to climb upon; there
no part of their bodies with which they do not wish to cherish their chicks
they can, nor do they do this without a joy and alacrity which they seem to
exhibit by the sound of their voices.”
In Matthew 23:37, the mother hen is evoked to express the spirit of
protective love: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I wished to gather
children together, even as a hen gathers together her chicks.”
The Renaissance writer Ulisse Aldrovandi wrote of mother hens in the 16th
They follow their chicks with such great love that, if they see or spy at
distance any harmful animal, such as a kite or a weasel or someone even
stalking their little ones, the hens first gather them under the shadow of
their wings, and with this covering they put up such a very fierce
– striking fear into their opponent in the midst of a frightful clamor,
both wings and beak – they would rather die for their chicks than seek
in flight. . . . Thus they present a noble example in love of their
as also when they feed them, offering the food they have collected and
neglecting their own hunger.
*The Role of the Rooster*
The family role of the rooster is nowadays less well known to most people
the motherhood of the hen. The charm of seeing a rooster with his hens
in Chaucer’s portrait of Chanticleer in *The Canterbury Tales*:
This cock had in his princely sway and measure
Seven hens to satisfy his every pleasure,
Who were his sisters and his sweethearts true,
Each wonderfully like him in her hue,
Of whom the fairest-feathered throat to see
Was fair Dame Partlet. Courteous was she,
Discreet, and always acted debonairly.
In ancient times, the rooster was esteemed for his sexual vigor; it is said
a healthy young rooster may mate as often as thirty or more times a day. The
rooster thus figures in religious history as a symbol of divine fertility
the life force. In his own world of chickendom, the rooster – the cock – is
father, a lover, a brother, a food-finder, a guardian, and a sentinel.
Aldrovandi extolled the rooster’s domestic virtues:
He is for us the example of the best and truest father of a family. For
only presents himself as a vigilant guardian of his little ones, and in
morning, at the proper time, invites us to our daily labor; but he sallies
forth as the first, not only with his crowing, by which he shows what
done, but he sweeps everything, explores and spies out everything.
Finding food, “he calls both hens and chicks together to eat it while he
like a father and host at a banquet . . . inviting them to the feast,
by a single care, that they should have something to eat. Meanwhile he
about to find something nearby, and when he has found it, he calls his
again in a loud voice. They run to the spot. He stretches himself up, looks
around for any danger that may be near, runs about the entire poultry yard,
and there plucking up a grain or two for himself without ceasing to invite
others to follow him.”
A nineteenth-century poultry keeper wrote to his friend that his Shanghai
was “very attentive to his Hens, and exercises a most fatherly care over the
Chicks in his yard. . . . He frequently would allow them to perch on his
and in this manner carry them into the house, and then up the chicken
We’re delighted that so many of you have responded to Wednesday’s Alert urging a polite call to three Dunn County, Wisconsin officials asking them to use their influence to stop the Ridgeland “chicken toss” in February.
Today’s Alert includes email addresses for these three Dunn County officials, plus links to our letter to District Attorney Andrea Nodolf, and very importantly, to the letters from University of California Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Medicine Nedim Buyukmihci, VMD in which Dr. Buyukmihci explains to the District Attorney and the County Supervisor why the chicken toss is inhumane and needs to be eliminated.
We understand that the offices are telling some callers that they’re not responsible for the chicken toss; however, these offices represent the county, including the village of Ridgeland. My conversation with County Supervisor Brian Johnson this week was cordial. While he did not say outright that he dislikes the chicken toss, he did not appear to support it either. He said it’s a sensitive “political” issue for those involved.
Whether we leave phone messages, send an email, or write a letter, we must always be courteous and keep the focus on the chickens, compassionate treatment, and humane education.
One of the US’s most dangerous industries is becoming even more hazardous for workers, as animal welfare and consumer safety are also put on the line. The federal government is allowing more and more slaughter plants to kill animals at increasingly dangerous rates.
At the end of September, the Trump administration announced that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be granting waivers allowing chicken slaughter plants to operate at higher kill speeds — going from a staggering 140 birds killed per minute (or more than two birds every single second) to 175.
This misguided decision benefits only the profit-driven meat industry. It does so at the expense of millions of animals, workers and consumers.
Four waivers have recently been granted to chicken plants that will join 20 already killing as many as 175 birds each minute. A gut-wrenching new undercover investigation by my organization, Compassion Over Killing (COK), reveals high-speed horrors behind the closed doors of one of those initial 20 plants, and why these waivers must come to a screeching halt.
Reckless High-Speed Slaughter Exposed
Marking the second time in just three years that a COK investigator has exposed the alarming consequences of high-speed slaughter, this heartbreaking hidden-camera footage was filmed inside Amick Farms in Hurlock, Maryland.
COK’s investigator documented workers punching, shoving or throwing birds down the hurtling line; birds slowly drowning in electrified stunning baths during equipment breakdowns; and “red birds,” chickens who were not fully bled out before entering the scalding tank — evidence that they entered the tank while still alive.
Don’t miss a beat
Get the latest news and thought-provoking analysis from Truthout.
“Birds can be seen — still hanging from the shackles — in the water bath. … It is likely that the birds would have experienced prolonged, possibly painful electrical shock while they died of drowning,” said Dr. Sara Shields, a farm animal behavior and welfare specialist at Humane Society International, in an expert statement in response to COK’s footage. “This situation is totally unacceptable from an animal welfare perspective.”
COK submitted its video evidence to local authorities as well as to FSIS, urging the agency to revoke increased line speeds at Amick Farms and other high-speed plants, and stop issuing any further waivers. Though the criteria for receiving a waiver specifies that plants “must be able to demonstrate that … faster line speeds will maintain or improve food safety,” among other requirements, COK’s new investigation has shown that faster lines lead to enormous animal suffering.
Amick Farms responded to The Washington Post’s coverage of the investigation, neglecting to take any real responsibility for the cruelties happening behind the doors of its slaughterhouse.
At current rates of 140 birds slaughtered per minute at most plants, birds are already enduring horrific suffering. In addition, workers, who must keep up with the fast-paced assembly line environment, are forced to take inhumane shortcuts. Yet, with the government’s recent announcement, we’re moving quickly backward from bad to much worse.
Other COK investigations have documented birds being improperly shackled, dumped onto the conveyor belt and being roughly handled by workers struggling to keep up with rapidly moving lines. Birds suffer during this short and tragic journey to the kill line — already having endured severely overcrowded and filthy conditions on factory farms where they were bred for unnaturally rapid growth.
After these birds spend their lives standing, eating and sleeping in their own waste (often causing painful ammonia burns on their skin) and possibly even having their legs collapse under the unnatural weight of their own genetically manipulated bodies, the life of a “broiler” chicken farmed for food culminates in the horror of painful slaughter.
In addition to the obvious cruelty toward farmed animals in the final moments of their short lives, high-speed slaughter lines also pose grave danger to workers. Many employees at slaughter plants are already vulnerable undocumented workers exploited in one of the nation’s most dangerous industries to work. Even at current line speeds, they’re often denied bathroom breaks to keep up the pace at all costs, and can suffer painful medical issues and severe injuries — even amputations.
But instead of taking pause to address the dangers of this reckless program, the USDA is expanding it — and not just for chickens.
The Public Speaks Out Against High-Speed Pig Slaughter
In late 2015, a COK undercover investigator worked at Quality Pork Processors (QPP) in Austin, Minnesota, a pig slaughterhouse that exclusively supplies to Hormel, the maker of SPAM and other pork products. Held up as a model plant for the USDA’s high-speed pig slaughter program — the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point-Based Inspection Model Project — QPP kills approximately 1,300 pigs every hour.
The terrifying truth revealed in undercover footage paints a picture very much like the horrors seen at Amick Farms: pigs being beaten, shocked and dragged to the kill floor. Many were also improperly stunned, possibly leading them to enter the scalding tank alive — just like the “red birds” documented at Amick. In this fast-paced environment, pigs covered in feces or pus-filled abscesses were also seen processed for human consumption — all with a USDA inspection seal of approval.
In April 2018, Compassion Over Killing’s former investigator, now out from behind the camera after his work at QPP and other slaughterhouses, delivered a quarter-million signatures to the USDA demanding it to end its regressive high-speed pig slaughter program.
Yet the USDA continues to frame its high-speed program as a “modernization” of the meat industry. There’s nothing modern about reducing already minimal protections for consumers, animals and workers.
Though animal organizations and workers’ rights advocates alike are fighting these reckless speed increases, and the USDA has received more than 83,000 comments regarding this program — many opposed to it — the enormous lobbying power of the National Chicken Council continues has put pressure on the USDA to eliminate speed caps altogether. The USDA has denied a countrywide increase so far, but there’s little stopping the agency from granting waivers for individual slaughter plants across the United States.
To stand in solidarity with exploited workers, tortured animals and unknowingly duped consumers, the easiest solution is to leave these cruelly mass-produced animal products off our plates. By voting with our dollars and avoiding these products altogether, we show the USDA, National Chicken Council and huge corporations running these plants that we do not support these cruel practices that harm human and non-human animals in the name of profit.
Allowing slaughterhouses to run their kill lines at even faster speeds is a reckless decision by this administration that will lead to increased animal suffering, continued worker exploitation and compromised food safety. Tell the USDA: Not so fast. Take action and sign the petition at HighSpeedHorrors.com.
United Poultry Concerns is joining Wisconsin-based Alliance for Animals again this year in politely urging the village of Ridgeland in Dunn County, Wisconsin to cancel the “Chicken Toss” in February (most likely Saturday, Feb. 16th since it is always held in mid-February although we could not confirm the date as yet).
The chicken toss consists of throwing many chickens, one or two at a time, up in the air from a roof. Crowds scramble to grab the birds as they fall to the ground. The chickens huddle together, freezing and fearful, in crates and bags waiting to be thrown by participants who consider this activity fun.
There is no similarity between a chicken being pulled from a container and thrown roughly up in the air from a roof in the midst of a screaming mob, and a chicken fluttering voluntarily to the ground from a perch in a quiet place.
What Can I Do?
Please call these Dunn County officials, and politely urge them to prohibit the “chicken toss” this year. Whether you reach a live person or a recording, leave a brief, clear, and respectful message expressing your concern for the chickens: their fear and possible injury and the frigid weather.
For six months, an employee of the animal rights group worked inside one of the largest chicken slaughterhouses in Canada, while using a hidden camera to secretly videotape what he was seeing.
He spoke to CTV’s W5 on the condition that we not use his real name. So, we’ll call him John.
“It is one of the ugliest places you can imagine,” he said.
The slaughterhouse is owned and operated by Maple Lodge Farms. By any standard, the place is big, a sprawling series of factory style buildings in a field located on the edge of Brampton, Ont. near Toronto.
A steady stream of tractor trailers arrive from mostly Ontario farms that raise the chickens from hatching to slaughter.
The birds are bred to grow quickly, their lives last usually no longer than two months. And the sheer numbers can be staggering.
Nearly half a million birds are slaughtered at the Maple Lodge plant every day, feeding a Canadian market that consumes more than 650 million chickens every year, making it the most popular meat source in the country.
The Maple Lodge Farms website states that it treats the birds humanely and with respect. But the undercover video shot by Mercy for Animals Canada does show things that many viewers probably would find difficult to watch.
“There are birds that arrive dead in the hot months,” John told W5. “They die from over-heating. And in the colder months, chickens die from being too cold. They actually arrive frozen like ice blocks.”
A frozen chicekn is unloaded from a crate.
Once inside the plant, the crates of chickens are unloaded, and placed, sometimes roughly thrown, onto a conveyor belt.
Then they arrive at the beginning of an assembly line.
The video shows workers pulling chickens out of the crates and hanging them upside down by the legs. They have to work fast.
“Each employee is expected to hang 20 birds a minute,” John said. “So employees are hanging birds as fast as they can to keep up. So it’s being grabbed pretty violently. Sometimes you’ll see bones protruding out of the skin, you see toes ripped off. It’s pretty horrific.”
The line carrying the suspended birds then moves quickly through the various stages of the slaughter process.
The heads are pulled through an electrified pool that stuns the animals, and then through a machine that cuts their throats, and finally into scalding tanks that make it easier for another machine to pluck out the feathers.
It isn’t pretty, but it is supposed to be efficient, and humane.
Except the Mercy for Animals Canada investigator said he often saw birds come out of the stunning pool conscious, and because of their flapping and struggles to release themselves, sometimes would miss the blade designed to cut their throats.
There is a provision for that. There are employees positioned with knives so they can manually dispatch the birds that have survived till that point.
“They told me they do a thousand a day, sometimes two thousand,” John told W5.
The technology being used at Maple Lodge Farms is standard in the industry. So the inevitable question, is the company actually doing anything wrong?
W5 put the question to one of Canada’s poultry experts who believes that some of the things he saw in the undercover video should not happen.
University of Guelph professor Ian Duncan, right, reviews footage with W5’s Tom Kennedy.
He is Ian Duncan, a professor at the University of Guelph. After looking at video of the way crates were loaded on to the conveyor belt, he said: “That’s unacceptable, throwing them down like that.”
On the physical appearance of some of the birds, he said, “There is a bone sticking through there. Something’s been dislocated. That is very unusual. That shouldn’t happen.”
After looking at some birds hanging by one leg instead of two, he said, “That’s unacceptable. It puts huge pressure on the hip joint and there’s also a danger that when it comes to where the bird is to be stunned, it won’t go into the stunning bath properly and won’t meet the knife that’s going to cut its neck.”
When asked if birds could live through that whole process, he answered bluntly. “Yes. Yes.”
Maple Lodge Farms has had trouble before. In September of 2013, it was convicted of two offences under the Health of Animals Act and later pleaded guilty to another 18 counts, all related to “…the failure to prevent undue suffering by undue exposure to weather of a large number of chickens.”
Thousands of birds had died while being transported to slaughter at Maple Lodge Farms. A few of the counts related to inadequate ventilation.
In the ruling, the judge commented, “Economic imperatives trumped animal welfare.”
The company was fined nearly $100,000 and put on probation for a period of three years, during which it was expected to comply with numerous conditions.
And now, Mercy for Animals Canada has prepared a complaint that it has forwarded to the federal regulator, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Among the accusations, Mercy for Animals Canada claims:
Birds continued to be exposed to freezing temperatures during transport.
Birds became trapped in the doors of transport crates and severely injured in the transport crates.
The excessive line speed made it impossible for workers to handle and hang birds humanely.
W5 exchanged several emails and left phone messages with Michael Burrows, the CEO of Maple Lodge Farms, requesting a meeting to show him the undercover video and to get his comment.
In subsequent correspondence, Mr. Burrows wrote us back to say, “Maple Lodge Farms has stringent policies and practises that govern all aspects of animal care and food safety… The humane treatment of the birds we rely on for our livelihood is a priority and a moral responsibility that we take seriously.”
He also wrote that his company was very disturbed by what W5 had told him and he had launched his own investigation of the allegations made by Mercy for Animals Canada. But he never did agree to an interview.
W5 also telephoned and emailed the federal regulator, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. On repeated occasions, it said it would call back. It never did.
But 20 days after W5 first contacted them, the regulator did sent an email to say “The CFIA is conducting a thorough and careful review of the complaint and will take any necessary measures that it may deem appropriate.”
It added that it has the power to impose fines, and in the event of serious and repeated offences, “…the CFIA may refer non-compliance for criminal prosecution.”
Mercy for Animals Canada is also pushing for major changes to the aging technology prevalent in the business of poultry slaughter.
Instead of the electrified pools being used to stun the birds and the automated cutter used to slice throats, the animal rights organization is openly urging the adoption of what is called Controlled Atmosphere Killing, or CAK for short.
Video from a plant in Norway shows crates of birds arriving at a CAK facility, placed inside a chamber where inert gases replace oxygen causing all birds to slip into unconsciousness and then death. Only then are they handled by humans.
A major retooling of the industry would inevitably be costly and could drive up the price and therefore, reduce the demand for chicken.
But Duncan suspects the industry will take a hard look at change anyway, especially if the poultry-consuming public begins to take a critical look at how one of their favourite foods actually arrives on their plates.
“If the video showed race horses or some other animal that people valued (being killed this way), there would be a huge outcry,” Duncan said. “Chickens can still suffer.”
On the evening of 7 August 2018, a KLM charter flight left Amsterdam, landing 11 hours later at Kilimanjaro airport in northern Tanzania. Its young occupants were nodded through immigration and driven 50 miles to their new home, close to some of Africa’s most famous game parks.
These were no tourists hoping to see lions in the nearby Serengeti. The 2,320 little cockerels and 17,208 hens on the plane were a flock of European-bred pedigree Cobb 500 chickens, the world’s most popular breed. Their destination: a remote 200-hectare mega-farm under construction in the windy foothills of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro.
Here, where wildlife and nomadic tribes have always roamed, Tyson, the world’s second-largest food company, has set up with Irvine’s, Africa’s oldest industrial chicken producer. With the backing of a devout Christian businessman, Donnie Smith, the three partners aim to revolutionise food production in central Africaand “save” people from hunger by growing chickens on an American scale. The little chicks and hens are the expeditionary force of an army of Cobb 500s to follow.
Irvine’s $20m (£15m) parent stock laying eggs on the high plains below Mount Kilimanjaro is just the start. In a year’s time they expect to be sending 500,000 fertilised eggs a week to a sister hatchery on the Tanzanian coast, where millions of one-day-old chicks will be sold to local farmers. In a few years they could be rearing and exporting 40m or even 50m broilers a year to neighbouring Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other African countries.
No one knows if they will flood the market and undermine local producers, or if they will improve food security in countries where millions of people regularly go hungry.
But they should make money. There is an insatiable appetite for chicken meat in African cities, and only a handful of industrial farms across the continent competing with imports from the US, Europe or Brazil.
Tyson sees central Africa as a promising new market. The corporate behemoth, which turns over $38bn (£30bn) a year, says it is “faith-friendly” and rooted in Christian values. It processes and sells about 11bn chickens a year worldwide, according to Bloomberg.
And for Donnie Smith (below left), the genial former chief executive of Tyson, from Tennessee, the Kilimanjaro plant is “God’s plan”.
Smith, who spent 35 years with Tyson, says he feels impelled by his faith to feed the world’s poor. He has already set up a small chicken charity in Rwanda that offers loans to small farmers to buy a few hundred birds. His mission now is to bring chickens to Africa on a grand scale.
“I am a Christian. I feel a call to use my poultry background and put that to work. Poultry is the most efficient converter of feed to meat; no religions are against eating poultry. If you want an impact on the poor, providing them with high-quality, affordable protein from chicken is the best way.
“Why Africa? The need is tremendous. I have travelled in sub-Saharan Africa and in the largest population centres you see fairly rapid progress, but [not] in rural areas. All my experience tells me that God wants me to work in Africa,” he says.
Nature’s Arnie Schwarzeneggers
The farm looks like aliens have landed. Planet Cobb sees giraffes on their way between national parks pass many low, 120 metre-long, 12 metre-wide, shiny white structures; Maasai pastoralists in woven red shuka blankets drive their cattle over land dotted with steel masts, tanks and towers. The snows of Kilimanjaro glisten above the clouds.
As happens all over Africa, many households in the few nearby villages keep chickens for eggs or to eat on occasional celebrations. But unlike the bright white Cobb 500s in their sealed sheds, these birds are scrawny, gaudy and all shapes and sizes. They look spectacular and taste strong.
In contrast, the Cobbs are nature’s Arnie Schwarzeneggers – all jutting chests, rippling thighs, big feet and bland flesh. These meat machines have been highly bred for 100 years to grow fast, bulk up their breasts and to eat only small quantities of cheap soya and maize.
Irvine’s $20m farm and hatchery in Dar es Salaam
Today, the Cobb 500 is an industrial marvel. A parent hen will lay on average 192 eggs in its short 15-month life, more than twice as many as any backyard bird; and a young Cobb 500 broiler can grow from a day-old chick to a 2kg bird ready for the pot in just 33 days.
The Cobb is now the chicken that ate the world, identically bred in 120 countries and the first choice of most of the world’s big poultry farmers and fast-food chains from McDonald’s to Wendy’s, KFC and Zaxby’s.
No one has counted, but there are probably far more Cobb 500s alive than there are humans. The UN’s Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) estimated in 2011 that there were 19bn chickens across the globe. Of those bred for their meat, nearly half are thought to be Cobbs. In the next few years chicken is expected to overtake pork and beef to become the world’s most popular meat. Cobb flesh by then could be in the diet of billions of people.
The multinational company Cobb-Vantress, which has developed the bird and is owned by Tyson, declined to speak to the Guardian. But, says Hal Herzog, a US author and anthro-zoologist: “Once its feathers are plucked, its feet and head chopped off, its gut scraped out and its blood drained, 73% of a Cobb 500’s carcass will be eviscerated yield.
“A broiler chicken’s bones cannot keep up with the explosive growth of its body.” He says that unnaturally large breasts may torque a chicken’s legs, causing lameness, ruptured tendons and twisted legs.
But the Cobb 500 is the likely future of food. With scientists urging people to eat less meat to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Cobb broilers are proving to have the best carbon footprint of all land-based animals. According to one calculation, kilo for kilo, a broiler emits five times less CO2 equivalent than lamb, and is environmentally better than cheese.
To get the best, soft white meat from a Cobb 500 you need more than genetics, says Enzo Faglioni, the young Brazilian vet who is Irvine’s breeder operation manager at the farm. “You must minutely control the birds’ environment. They must be as comfortable as possible at all times, and be treated like babies,” he says. “These birds live like kings and queens.”
He accepts that commercial poultry farms have made welfare mistakes in the past, but says the lessons have been learned. No antibiotics are used unless there is an outbreak of illness, and no hormones are pumped into their feed.
To go inside the sealed, dark, windowless Kilimanjaro chicken sheds you must shower twice, brush your teeth, wash your hair and wear special clothes. When the doors are opened, there are identical white chickens as far as the eye can see.
From top left: young Cobb chicks drink from a mechanical water dispenser; each room contains about 9,000 birds; herding chicks to keep them from crowding in groups; repairing the mechanical chicken feeder
There is a deep rumble of tens of thousands of clucks, interspersed with the crowing of many hundreds of cocks, and a whiff of ammonia. But random checks show no lameness, blisters or sores. The birds are not aggressive and look content. The mortality rate over their 15-month lifetime is said to be about 5%, far less than in the average European or American broiler house.
It is only when you get down on floor level that the large Cobb cocks attack. Feet out, wings flapping and beaks thrusting, they come at you hard. It hurts and all you can do is yell and run.
‘The need is great’
“This is how Africa can feed itself,” says Smith. The continent’s population is going to double to 2 billion people in the next 30 years and chicken is needed to provide the protein to avoid malnourishment and stunting, he says. “Chickens are good for the environment, too, because they need less land, less food and less water [than cattle and pigs] to produce the same amount of meat.
“We’re not there yet but we are making chicken more affordable. I don’t think that we will undermine other producers or traditional breeds. You will see two food systems running side by side.
“I believe that chicken will become the most affordable, complex protein on the African continent. We know what the future is going to look like and this is it. We want to access the future in Africa because the need is so great.”
Food security will be strengthened by improving the availability of broiler chicken products, confirms Anne Mottet, a livestock development officer for the FAO. But she emphasises the importance of small-scale operations. “Overall you want diversity of production sources. It’s more resilient than putting all your eggs in one basket. The more small-scale producers you have, the more resilient you are.”
Is sub-Saharan Africa ready for unchecked corporate concentration and the pollution and potential animal welfare problems that have plagued broiler-chicken production in Europe and the US?
Yes, says the Tanzanian government, which struggles to feed its fast-urbanising population and is a target for chicken imports from Europe and Brazil. Nearly a million people needed food aid in the country last year and Tanzania adds 1.6 million people a year. By 2035 its population will have grown by another 32 million.
“Definitely we are ready,” says Rose Sweya (left), a young Dar es Salaam chicken farmer who is eager to buy thousands of Donnie’s day-old Cobbs to fatten up. She says she welcomes competition and that the demand for chicken is insatiable.
“People desperately need protein and chicken is the best way to get it. The population is growing fast so the demand is rocketing. Eating chicken was rare when I grew up. It was seen as the food of high-class people. We had it for celebrations, and on special occasions like Christmas. For most people it is still quite rare,” she says.
With British aid, her company, Kingchick, is investing heavily in four poultry farms and a processing plant. She expects to employ another 20 or more women and could be selling 2,000 Cobbs a week within a year.
“There was always this mentality that frozen supermarket chicken was not good and that village chicken was best. But this is changing. ”
Locally grown chickens in a market in Arusha, Tanzania
Yet the arrival of the Cobbs is a mixed blessing for the villagers near the farm. It has provided well-paid work for some, but Maasai herders have complained that the farm’s high fences restrict their access to traditional pasture land. This, says Faglioni, has been resolved.
“Industrial-scale farming goes hand in hand with development,” he says. “We are changing the way that people eat and how they see the world. People here are proud that they are producing safe food for the country. They have money and can buy better food. We are offering a better way of life for both chickens and people.”
The domestic chicken is descended from the red jungle fowl, which is native to tropical South East Asia. The bird was first domesticated around 8,000 years ago, and rapidly spread around the world, to be used for meat and eggs.
In the 1950s the “chicken-of-tomorrow programme” was launched to produce bigger birds. Since then, the bird has undergone extraordinary changes.
It has been selectively bred to put on weight fast, which is evident from its body and the chemistry and genetics of its bones.
Meanwhile, roast chicken has gone from being an occasional treat to a global food enterprise.
Every year during the week leading up to Yom Kippur, several sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn sacrifice an estimated 60,000 chickens in makeshift slaughterhouses that are erected without permits on public streets. The practitioners of the ritual slaughter, called Kaporos, violate multiple city health codes:
The NYC Department of Health defends the illegal sacrifice, arguing that the city has not observed any “disease signals” associated with the practice. The NYPD, which is charged with enforcing the laws, instead aids and abets in the crimes.
A toxicology report confirmed that Kaporos poses a “significant public health hazard.”
“The Chief of Police and Health Commissioner are political appointees, and their boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, has clearly instructed them to assist in the illegal Kaporos massacre because the practitioners represent a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, an organizer in the effort to compel the city to enforce the laws. “Not only does the City provides police barricades, floodlights and an army of police officers and sanitation workers, but it also provides the traffic cones where tens of thousands of chickens are bled out into public streets.”
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio instructs the NYPD to aid and abet in the illegal slaughter of an estimated 60,000 animals on the streets of NYC (Unparalleled Suffering Photography)
On October 17th, during oral arguments about Kaporos in the the New York State Court of Appeals, a city attorney confirmed that laws are broken but argued that the city has discretion over which laws to enforce.
City health codes that are violated during Kaporos
During Kaporos, an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens are intensively confined in crates without food or water for up to several days before being slaughtered and discarded. Many die of starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual takes place. A toxicology reported commissioned by residents in the neighborhoods that are contaminated with the blood, feces and body parts of chickens states that the ritual a “significant public health hazard.”