|September 14, 2003 Sydney, Australia
Article published Sunday, September 14, 2003
Parts of the poultry industry are breeding deformed chickens that are fully grown at six weeks and so heavy their legs are unable to hold their own weight.
A raid by Animal Liberation volunteers on two farms which grow chickens for Australia's largest producer, Inghams, found evidence of deformed chickens.
Many of the birds were unable to stand and were forced to live in cramped conditions in windowless sheds.
Animal Liberation rescued 15 birds from a central coast chicken farm during the raids last Sunday and on Friday night.
While it is illegal to use growth hormones to make the chickens bigger, experts say the industry is breeding oversized birds.
Bird expert and veterinarian Mark Simpson who examined 11 of the birds said only two could walk and all had to be put down.
"They are more a factory item than a living thing. They push these birds to the very limit of what a chicken can do.
"It puts a lot of pressure on their skeletal system and a lot don't cope with it."
Video filmed by Animal Liberation during the raid was provided to NSW Agriculture Minister Ian Macdonald, whose spokeswoman said "matters of interest" in the video would be forwarded to the department for review.
The department told The Sunday Telegraph it relied on the RSPCA to investigate complaints of cruelty.
The RSPCA has called for the end to self-regulation in the industry and for an independent body to conduct random audits on broiler sheds.
"It's all well and good to have a code of practice but if it's not regulated it doesn't give bodies like ours much leverage," RSPCA deputy chief executive officer Steve Coleman said.
Video footage and photographs taken inside two broiler sheds showed chickens unable to hold up their own body weight lying in manure suffering ammonia burns.
Some who were helped to their feet only to topple over, leaned precariously on their beaks before falling to the ground.
Others flapped their wings as they dragged themselves around the floor.
Many could be seen with their legs splayed; their young joints unable to take the weight of their huge bodies.
The growers argue that intensive farming methods are the result of intense pressure from processors and consumers to grow cheaper chicken meat.
NSW Contract Poultry Group chairman Shaun Rodger denied that farmers mistreat their livestock and said a 25 per cent cut in the number of chickens held in a shed would mean the end of the industry.
Farmers can legally hold up to 13 chickens per square metre, with some sheds able to hold up to 40,000 birds.
"We lose on average 5 per cent of our birds but that is no different to grazing cattle or sheep," Mr Rodger said.
Animal Liberation NSW spokesman Mark Pearson said taking care of chickens would have little effect on the industry and called for a tougher code of practice.
It used to take the industry 20 weeks to grow a chicken but now producers can grow a bird in six weeks. Growers concede fast growth meant there was a risk chickens might not be able to hold their own weight.
Poultry expert Dr Raf Freire, who worked for the US and British agriculture department and is on a fellowship with the University of New England, said it was "foolish to think the practice is ideal".
"They are putting on too much weight too quickly and they can't move," he said.
However, he said it would not change while farmers received such a small part of the profits generated by the industry and consumers wanted cheap chicken.
Growers are paid an average 50c a bird.
Inghams did not return calls.
Editorial published Sunday, September 14, 2003
THE photographs taken inside a Mangrove Mountain chicken farm which appear in today's The Sunday Telegraphwill shock many readers.
But they only tell part of the story. Other photographs taken secretly last week at the same farm were too horrific to publish.
Lame, six-week-old birds sprawl in manure, their over-sized bodies too big to be supported on their spindly legs.
Their limbs are twisted and deformed. Their breasts are burnt red raw by the nitrogen in their own faeces in which they wallow.
Rotting carcasses of dead birds are trampled and pecked at by other chickens. Small birds, unable to reach food and water troughs, slowly starve to death.
According to animal welfare groups, these pitiful scenes are not uncommon in the factory farms which breed tens of millions of chickens a year in Australia.
Most of the animals are destined for processing by one of Australia's two huge chicken conglomerates which supply most of the supermarkets and fast-food chains in the country.
Chicken farmers have a duty by law for ensuring birds in their care are kept in humane conditions.
They say they are being forced to cut corners by the big conglomerates who pay them just 53c to grow a chicken. The farmers have a point. Price competition has driven down margins throughout the industry, but it is farmers being squeezed.
But an intelligent, caring society should ask itself which should come first the chicken or the economics?
No civilised country should tolerate such cruelty. The suffering of any living creature is too big a price to pay for cheap food at the checkout.
Intensive farming threatens the health of humans as well as animals. Studies in Britain have found that up to 40 per cent of birds in poultry slaughterhouses contain either salmonella or campylobacter food poisoning.
And there is mounting evidence that the overuse of antibiotics in animals is creating superbugs resistant to medicines.
Clearly, on the evidence presented by The Sunday Telegraph today, government regulations are either inadequate or are not being enforced. Federal and state governments must immediately review the laws governing farming cruelty.
All of us can share in the task of alleviating the suffering of factory-farmed chickens.
We can refuse to buy poultry not certifiably cruelty-free. Each time we buy a chicken from the supermarket or a box of chicken wings from KFC, we should ask if the chickens were reared inhumanely.
Without that guarantee we should take our business elsewhere. In the face of such brutal suffering, we cannot afford to sit on the fence.
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