Not all chickens are born equal. Nor are pigs, nor are sheep, for that matter.
That’s the bald truth of the matter. And the problem with this, aside from health issues for the animals themselves, is that consumers have no idea where their produce is coming from or how it got there. They think they do, but they don’t.
Even if animals are raised well, there’s no guarantee they will meet a humane end as the latest round of abattoir cruelty scandals hit the media earlier this month.
And there’s little in the way of peace-of-mind to distinguish between those producers and graziers who do do the right thing and those who game the system and make their animals suffer.
All this comes as animal welfare organisation Voiceless launches a new advertising campaign to raise awareness about the realities of factory farming in Australia. The commercials come with the added star-power of Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish.
And Abbie Cornish has this to say:
“Ultimately, each of us must respond to animal cruelty in our own way and the response is often a journey, where the starting point is learning the truth that lies behind your fork,” said Dana Campbell, Voiceless CEO.
That’s because ‘farm to fork’ labels are misleading at best. So, let’s get a feel for what we’re dealing with.
Raising animals in Australia
Industry chickens are bred for two reasons and two reasons only. For their eggs, or for their meat.
Battery hens, the machine-line egg producers, are almost universally assured a life without sunlight or open spaces. Many are kept in cages four-apiece with less than an A4 sized piece of paper to live in, according to welfare groups. There are 11 million of these battery hens in Australia.
The birds are animals and they have animal urges. Things like dust-bathing, perching, ‘the very strong desire’ to lay their eggs in private spots. None of this happens for a battery hen. As many as one in six live with broken bones as their cage conditions weaken their skeletons.
When their egg laying rate inevitably slows, the hens are disposed of, around the age of 18 months. Male chicks don’t even make it that far. They are gassed or otherwise ‘ground up’ when they are born.
Meat chickens are a slightly different story. There are more than 400 million in Australia, raised to stack on the meat at three times their usual growth rate and slaughtered at five weeks. The forced weight-gain often results in the animals being crippled under the strain, or breaking bones altogether.
It is legal to grow the birds in sheds with as many as 20 per square metre. It’s a confinement which leads to disease, heat stroke and heart failure in the cramped conditions.
The National Farmers Federation disagrees with these statements. We asked for a response:
“The chicken meat industry is governed by a government, industry and RSPCA-endorsed Model Code of Practice. Under this Code, no cages are the size of an A4 piece of paper. Single bird cages are rare, and are about the size of two A4 pieces of paper. Modern cages in commercial production measure up to the size of 20 pieces of A4 paper, while in the majority of meat chicken sheds, the chickens have access to the entire floor – around 12-15 metres wide by 80-140 metres long.
Australian cage egg farmers have invested up to $500 million to upgrade their cage farms so that they comply with new legislation across the States that came into effect in 2008. Industry bodies do not support egg farmers who do not comply with the new legislation.
It is important to remember that hens are social animals and choose to cluster together.
This statement [that meat chickens cannot handle extra weight] is completely untrue – the conditions they are reared in do not lead to bone breakages due to weakened bones or weight. Claims that chickens bred for meat are too big for their owns legs or cardiovascular systems are simply wrong. It simply doesn’t make sense for farmers to breed birds with physical problems that never make it to market.
In fact, meat chickens have been selectively bred over the past 60 years to be more efficient at transforming feed into meat, as well as other important characteristics such as strong skeletal development and disease resistance.”
There’s a darker side to milk. Dairy cows are kept in a state of near-constant pregnancy, that they might produce the milk we’re used to having with our cereal. But the ‘poddy calves’ or ‘bobby calves’ are surplus to requirements and some 700,000 are destroyed each year and sold for meat. That would be the veal some of us love to order at restaurants.
The calves are taken from their mothers after a day and trucked away, sometimes going without food for a day at a time.