Taste Isn't Everything:
Making Fast Food More Humane
by Ardeth Baxter
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Remember how our mothers used to tell us that food that tastes good is not always good for you? In the case of fast food, Mom was right: tastiness can be downright deceiving. It can hide the unnecessary animal suffering and health risks behind that mega burger, fried chicken wing, or breakfast bagel you’re devouring. One group that has worked to improve conditions for animals raised and slaughtered by suppliers to the fast food industry is People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA has applied pressure to get McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Jack in the Box to improve their animal welfare standards. Lately PETA has been trying to work with KFC to raise their standards through their “Kentucky Fried Cruelty” campaign.
Seven hundred and fifty million chickens every year are raised in conditions completely unnatural to their species in order to produce the tasty meals that KFC serves. Chickens are exempt from even the minimal protection afforded other livestock under the federal Animal Welfare Act and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
Arguably as intelligent as dogs or cats, chickens are highly social animals who, under normal conditions, establish a pecking order. Yet they’re crammed into wire cages in huge sheds filled with ammonia fumes and manure, with no room to spread their wings, let alone stand, walk or socialize normally; their beaks are cut without anesthetic so they don’t attack each other out of frustration; despite having drugs pumped into them, 60% are infected with Salmonella which can be passed on to consumers; and they’re biogenetically engineered to grow rapidly, which causes many health problems. They can’t do anything that constitutes a normal life: raise their chicks, form friendships, dust bathe, peck for insects in the earth, make nests, or roost. At about 9 weeks of age (their normal life span is up to 12 years), they’re transported to slaughterhouses, shackled upside down, their throats are cut and they’re thrown into scalding water to remove their feathers, often while still conscious. But none of this suffering is seen in the tasty bucket of fried chicken or box of chicken nuggets bought by consumers.
To raise public awareness about the lives of factory farmed chickens as well as other livestock, PETA’s trademark and often successful MO has been to enlist celebrity support, while hardworking staff members toil behind the scenes doing the less glamorous work of trying to convince corporate boards that it’s in their interest to give their food animals as humane a life as possible. Sir Paul McCartney, the Dalai Lama, Bea Arthur, James Cromwell, Alec Baldwin, Pamela Anderson, Russell Simmons and others have all taken a strong public stand against factory farm abuses. In addition, PETA volunteers across the nation protest at local franchises with signs and informational literature. Add to that potent mix lawsuits against deceptive advertising, undercover videos, provocative billboards and regular press releases, and it can make for a powerful campaign.
Although PETA would prefer that more people demonstrate their opposition to killing animals for food by becoming vegetarian, it operates on the assumption that in our anthropocentric, meat-loving society, better treatment of our fellow animals can only be achieved in small increments. Thus, it has worked patiently with a number of fast food chains to get them to improve welfare standards for the cows, pigs, and chickens they buy from their suppliers. Partly through its efforts, Burger King now serves a “meatless” burger, and McDonald’s also offers them at some franchises. Of course, PETA never gets credit for any of it; the fast food chains, not wanting to appear to be bowing to the pressure of “animal rights extremists”, usually claim they were planning to make the changes anyway. But the bottom line is that it results in improved conditions for animals.
For example, in 2000, PETA suspended its “McCruelty to Go” campaign against McDonald’s in response to the fast food chain’s announcement that it would improve living conditions for its chickens. And in December of last year, PETA announced that McDonald’s was studying controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK), which puts poultry to sleep quickly and painlessly.
The successful “Murder King” campaign against Burger King was terminated when it announced that it would exceed the animal welfare standards worked out between McDonald’s and PETA. These included conducting unannounced inspections and establishing humane handling guidelines for cattle, pig, and poultry slaughterhouses; giving egg-laying hens more cage space so they can stand fully upright; and no longer purchasing from suppliers who force-molt (i.e., starve chickens to induce more egg laying).
Ongoing protests against KFC’s animal welfare standards have been taking place in Santa Fe and other cities, and it’s been getting a lot of bad press. The actor Jason Alexander, a TV pitchman for KFC, quit after hearing from PETA about KFC’s welfare violations. This year, PETA released two videos to the media showing employees at KFC suppliersa Pilgrim’s Pride slaughterhouse in West Virginia and a Tyson Foods slaughterhouse in Alabamakicking and slamming chickens into a wall and tearing their heads off. In April, two animal welfare advisors to KFC announced that they had resigned because KFC wanted them to sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prevented them from speaking publicly about its slaughtering standards. Soon after, picketers made the news protesting outside a shareholders meeting of KFC Canada in Toronto.
KFC is clearly showing signs of cracking. Here’s what you can do to help that happen sooner. Boycott KFC until it agrees to adopt animal welfare improvements. Also write to: David Novak, Chair/CEO, Yum! Brands, 13006 N. Osage Road, Louisville, KY 40223, 1-800-call-KFC or e-mail him at www.yum.com/contact/default.htm. Tell him how you feel about torturing chickens for profit. Visit www.kentuckyfriedcruelty.cpm for more information. To participate in a peaceful protest in Santa Fe, contact me for dates and times: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ardeth Baxter is an animal rights advocate and ethical vegan with four dogs and five cats. For more of her writing, visit: Associated Content
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