Poultry Executive Channels the Madness of the Corporate Food Industry With Bizarre Olympics Metaphor
“The path to progress in chicken production and the Olympics is more similar than many might think,” states a vice president for the National Chicken Council. “Just as it took years of small changes to take the Olympics from the Mark Spitz era to the Michael Phelps era, it has taken years of small improvements to breed the bigger, stronger and more sustainable chickens of today.”
Olympians are faster, healthier and more athletic than those decades ago. We’re in awe at the world records being broken in Rio, and are often left breathless at the display of athletic feats few humans could ever achieve.
The chicken-meat industry, on the other hand, has created chickens who’d more fittingly be called “anti-Olympians.” Using genetic manipulation from selective breeding techniques, chickens are more than three times as large and grow three times faster than chickens in the 1950s. The unintended consequences of changing the genetic makeup of these birds for rapid growth and weight gain are disastrous for the chickens' health and well-being. They are often so grotesquely overweight their legs cannot support them and they lose their ability to walk, much less show any kind of poultry athleticism.
In fact, compared to those chickens alive during the Eisenhower administration, today’s chickens are more obese, slower, prone to skeletal disorders, lethargic and susceptible to disease. Studies consistently show nearly one out of every three chickens living on factory farms has problems walking. Of that third, hundreds of millions are almost unable to walk entirely.
If the athletes in Rio were genetically designed like modern-day chickens, they’d resemble Jabba the Hutt, not Usain Bolt. They’d have to be dosed with antibiotics because their immune system has weakened. They’d have heart attacks and barely have the lung capacity to walk to the starting line. The leading causes of mortality in commercial chicken sheds are “sudden death syndrome,” metabolic disease and leg deformities. Do these animals sound like the world’s greatest athletes?
Imagine watching a long jump competition and the contestants can’t jump. Or being glued to the TV eyeing the 200 meter sprint and a third of the runners not only can’t run, but have problems taking more than a few steps.
The Chicken Council veep continued down his peculiar comparison by stating, “Once on the farm, farmers have close relationships with veterinarians to ensure the flocks are healthy and properly cared for, just as Olympic teams travel with trainers and a medical staff.”
Now that’s a pretty odd analysis. The U.S. female gymnastics team, as an example, is comprised of five people. With such a small team, it’s understandable if they’d have one trainer. How many “gymnasts”—or animals—are in a typical chicken warehouse? About 10,000. And they don’t even have a single veterinary professional onsite. Even if they did, one veterinarian couldn’t possibly evaluate the health of each individual bird or provide care for 10,000 birds.
Coincidentally, there were just about the same number of Olympians in Rio as there are animals in a typical chicken shed. According to the Chicken Council’s method of raising animals, there should be one doctor to treat the more than 10,000 athletes.
And we thought Olympians from ancient Greece had it bad!
The piece by the Chicken Council’s VP wasn’t solely filled with comparisons that defied logic and facts. It concluded that “as we look down to our plates, the same year over year progress in food production is often met with skepticism or downright distrust.”
When billions of animals are suffering inside warehouses and the industry responsible for their care pretends that these obese, crippled birds are avian versions of Carl Lewis, skepticism and distrust is just the beginning.