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The [Commercial & Ethical] Impossibility of “Humane” Eggs

Little Red was rescued from a "pasture" egg farm -- the very best of the less than 1% best -- before she was going to be killed for being "spent" at two years old, as all hens exploited for their eggs are fated to be. (Oh, and like many ex-"pasture" girls, she had a band embedded in her leg because she outgrew it and her exploiter obviously did not care. She is permanently mutilated, and will forever walk with a limp because of it.)

Little Red was rescued from a "pasture" egg farm -- the very best of the less than 1% best -- before she was going to be killed for being "spent" at two years old, as all hens exploited for their eggs are fated to be. (Oh, and like many ex-"pasture" girls, she had a band embedded in her leg because she outgrew it and her exploiter obviously did not care. She is permanently mutilated, and will forever walk with a limp because of it.)

The [Commercial & Ethical] Impossibility of “Humane” Eggs

By Kelly Atlas

(This post is intended to illustrate the commercial problems that make mass-producing eggs at lauded "humane" standards impracticable, and to further identify how a genuinely "humane" standard is never met and argue that the very idea of "humane" exploitation is impossible -- in terms of both intents and impacts -- while providing contextual information about what is involved in the exploiting of chickens for their eggs, as well as explaining the important ethical and tactical reasons to recognize all eggs as a product of human chauvinism and violence.)

Currently, outside of my involvement with DxE, I work at an adoption center (Animal Place’s Rescue Ranch) for nonhuman refugees who were exploited for “food” purposes. We recently rescued two thousand “spent” chickens from battery cages, before they were gassed. So let me tell you what it would take to sell eggs from chickens who get a sanctuary standard of living.

Let’s say we have 1,500 hens, in absolutely minimal sanctuary conditions (a reasonable minimum standard for what is arguably “humane” I hope we can agree), who are each laying at the 300-eggs/year upper end of the maximum amount of “egg production” that hens are forced (through their breeding) to perform in their first year after they start laying.

Every day, that’s *very conservatively* $150 for food and water, $15 straw and nesting materials for barns that they need to be in at night to protect them from nonhuman predators, and at least 15 hours of human labour per day just for cleaning (which is $109 at USA Federal Minimum Wage).

Just to split even with those costs, the eggs would have to be sold wholesale at a cost of 22-cents each, or $2.67/dozen wholesale. (The “large” white eggs of leghorns exploited in battery cages are currently $1.67/dozen wholesale in California where costs are highest in the US.)

At *minimum* sanctuary standards, this is already 160% the current cost of mass-produced eggs, and that’s not including what the grocery store adds on, and that’s not including extra cleaning hours needed, or above-minimum-wage earnings, or the costs of more food or higher-quality food (or calcium supplementation, which is definitely needed as the birds age past a year or two) if needed, and it certainly does not include profits and CEO-stuffer, or even utilities costs, or medical costs, or building and fencing and maintenance costs, or maintenance labour hours, or cleaning supplies costs, or transportation and shipping costs, or packaging costs, or admin costs, or advertising costs, or the costs of running a similar-standards farm for the parent birds and the layer chicks before they start laying or otherwise the cost of buying the hens to support the forested/pastured-breeding farms where the hens (let’s just call them slaves, since that is what it is to purchase someone else as property) were purchased, or the costs of raising the males (who can’t lay eggs!) if we don’t throw them in a trash bag (who am I kidding, the grinder is more popular) as infants, or the costs of whatever happens to the bodies of the birds who have passed on… and even those are just the ‘other’ costs that I can think of straight off the top of my head right now.

Then you’re definitely past the $3.00/dozen at which humanewashing exploiter Joel Salatin’s  “pastured” (PS, wild junglefowl don’t live in open pastures — not ethically relevant, but let’s understand who we’re exploiting a little better here) eggs sell.

This is NOT FEASIBLE for businesses that market to anyone but the wealthiest couple percent of the population (though a few backyard businesses that already have the land can do nearly-this at $5/dozen exploiting 50 hens/year, though they support hatcheries, profit from the hens’ constant suffering, do not give their inmates the medical care that sanctuaries commit to, kill said slaves, and promote speciesism and violence). It is absolutely impossible for the scale and pricing of the vast majority of eggs we consume currently from hens exploited in cramped battery cages and confined “free range" sheds.

This is all with all the chicken-enslavement (and corn-production) subsidies staying the same (which means staying what, tens of times higher than subsidies for fruit). Without the nonhuman exploiters buying off our corrupt government, eggs would cost even more — much more!

We’re not done yet, though. Now, let's go past what the very best of the "pasture" camps do, and, like a sanctuary, say we don’t murder anyone, but let them live out whatever lives their breeding allows them to. This means an average of far fewer eggs, as the rate at which they are able to form them continues to decline until their bred-broken bodies fail them (just over half as many by the time they’re three, and most will die around or before four due to reproductive problems so humanely bestowed on them through their breeding). Now you’re looking at around double the price of what you got after all of those extra items that came after the originally calculated 60% less-than-the-bare-minimum-costs markup.

If we make all of that other sanctuary-esque stuff happen, and it’s cheaper to kill them, why should we refuse to, if the lives they've lived have been net-positive? [Insert facepalm.] For the same ethical reasons that we should not bring human children into the world to be killed for their flesh after living to puberty in a net-positive life. (Reasons that apply whether you care more about the intention of your actions or their effects.)

It’s pretty straightforward: Their future life is worth more to them than their exploited bodies are to humans (who only seek to eat them because of habits — and moreover, hateful ideologies — that they’ve been taught). That's the case even if we kill someone in a 100% painless murder (which is, again, not commercially possible -- if possible at all, which I highly doubt, or rather, which I doubt with complete certainty given the lack of possibility to guarantee it is carried out perfectly, in which case the risk of any physical and emotional pain upon being murdered outweighs the negligible, entirely replaceable "pleasure" a human derives from eating their eggs).

Oh, and let’s not forget about the very significant speciesism- and violence-perpetuating social costs of saying it’s totally okay (and worse, morally superior and wonderful) to kill someone when their usefulness to us has run out, so long as they are so unfortunate as to not be a human.

To hammer it in past all the humanewashing propaganda we see every day: Where “humane” means anything like “compassion” it is utterly impossible to “humanely” use someone, for our own selfish purposes, at a cost to them (and others like them) that outweighs the perceived, easily substituted (by new social norms and palate pleasures — and with no transition cost at all for humans who never eat an egg) 'gain' to ourselves.


Don’t let me neglect to emphasize the ethical consideration of the serious physical (and thereby, in addition, emotional) burden that these people carry on account of being bred to lay so many (and such massive) eggs. They get prolapses and they struggle to lay and they have to eat and rest a lot, and, importantly, the vast majority of them will die young because of the shackles written into their genes. Frankly, I consider that not only painful and exhausting exploitation, but, importantly, murder.

For those who, after all of that, have resolved to endorse the selling of eggs from rescued chickens kept in backyards, forget it, because the social costs of degrading those animals to egg-making machines for us to use puts other chickens at risk of what you do not consider “humane."

There is no non-speciesist way to “farm” people who aren't human. “Humane” exploitation is ALWAYS a lie.

Until every animal is free,

Kelly, who aims to speak on behalf of Dualla & Snow, the two liberated hens in her family.

Dramatize the Issue

Dramatize the Issue (by Kelly)

UPDATE: Glenn Beck personally spent twelve minutes on his talk show talking about the disruption (hatefully, in perfect human supremacist fashion, though with an interesting acknowledgement of how he was taught speciesism).

I have adopted three little girls. One is a dog. Two are chickens. All are family.

You know how that is. Heck, most of America knows how that is where their dog or cat is concerned. The trouble is, we've learned to be so speciesist that we have a hard time seeing a chicken for the social, gentle, loving, clever little girl she is, because we're taught that only animals like "dog" and "cat" are "friend" but other animals like "cow" and "chicken" are called "food" instead -- without ever bothering to listen to what that animal has to say about it, when she cries out in a very clear call for help before a human kills her for his pleasure.

Well, last weekend, with other liberationists at my back, I went into a space that normalizes violence against animals who are not named "human" or "dog" or "cat" and I told the people there (and the people to view the video on the Internet) the story of one of my little girls.

Today it was widely publicized through a conservative web publication, namely by bullies eager to demonstrate their human supremacism, in tandem with threats of violence ("get between me and cooked meat, and i'll show you some violence" and "go away, woman, before we barbeque you") as well as a dash of misogyny ("sorry, but I don't trust females with little boy haircuts" and "crazed woman"), of course. (The publication's Facebook post is here.)

Other leftists, take note: If Glenn Beck's camp hates us this much, we're probably doing something extremely progressive. Leftist politics have everything to do with not treating others badly just because we can -- being against discrimination and violence is core to our position. And it's quite apparently antithetical to theirs, which is why they hate the threat of empathy that we embody. They believe that violence is a joke.

And to the #FirstWorldProblems comment, while I personally have that privilege, it is not hard to find animal rights activists and ethical vegans and anti-speciesist sentiment in any human society, and no actually, the hashtag doesn't justify dismissing the issue and the voices of those who are crying out for help just because they aren't humans. All oppression has the same ideological roots, we can't just fix the "human" problems first and then move on to the other animals. And we certainly shouldn't continue actively harming other animals just because other human animals are still being oppressed, there is no logic to that, unless it's okay to beat and rape and kill me because there are still men who experience oppression at the hands of some other logic of domination and they're just that much more important than me. And we should not judge that one person's suffering is more important than the suffering of any one or one billion others just because that person occupies a privileged class that the others do not.

The #FirstWorldProblems hashtag is used by people complaining about something that happened to them that they acknowledge is trivial. Nothing has happened to me. I have the privileges of being a human in a human supremacist society. The grievance here is from someone who is crying out for help as she desperately tries to escape being murdered. (And currently humans are not listening to her -- rather, we're silencing her -- so I am trying to use my voice to make space for hers.) That's not a triviality. She wants to live, she wants freedom, she wants to be loved, just like you and I and our dog friends. Really, the Blaze article itself should be hastagged #humanproblems, because it's just humans complaining about other humans trying to stop them from engaging in gratuitous acts of violence that they only can participate in because they are humans in a human supremacist society.

Basically all the other comments I've seen are straw humans and attempts at diversion and other obvious fallacies or just plain trolling.

While the speciesist hate speech in the comments may be enraging and disheartening, it is important to remember that confrontations like these and the others we do function to force the issue onto the table. And clearly, people are talking about it, it's not a non-issue that they're dismissing anymore. Instead, they're feeling pressure and retaliating. The animal rights movement is growing and everyone can see that happening.

(I'd like to note too that we should consider it an indication that our message is strong when the opposition themselves reiterates in our terms our attitude that Snow is a "somebody" rather than a something.)

As activists who engage in nonviolent direct action like the activists of the anti-oppression movements before us, we are here to get the dialogue moving, to get the animals' voices on the tables beside their bodies. And it's working. We're here to polarize the debate so people have to take a side and fight for it, and look at how the human supremacists are letting their colours show -- the animals' opponents are making it very clear that they are just violent, oppressive, hateful bullies who aren't particularly interested in empathy, rational conversation, or new ways of thinking. They're very actively and proudly in favor of hurting defenseless animals who just want to live, and they're aggressive towards humans who peacefully speak of a world without cruelty to animals. They're bullies, to the nonhumans and to their human allies. Seriously, whether you read our history books or just watch the movies we make, I think we are all equipped to determine who the bad guy in this story is.

No, this won't be easy. What movement against violent oppression ever was?

Yes, there is hope. Oh, so much of it. Why?

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored." (Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter From a Birmingham Jail)

They're not exactly ignoring it.

(PS: The original video is on Facebook and YouTube.)

Portrait Banners

Portrait Banners

We have just started making a series of banners for our (and your!) actions, that feature dignified portraits of nonhumans, of various species of people who are exploited by humans for a variety of purposes.

Why make a series with “dignified,” portrait-like photos that have no indication of the violence? It's a similar motivation to the "Someone, Not Something" images we make and share on our Facebook page, and the placards we printed for our Stories of Liberation action: We want to challenge speciesism and demonstrate these beings' personhoods. In nonhuman advocacy, we habitually see images of these animals being victimized, and we think we should also be showing them how they should be, to share a story of how things could be. We also think it is important to contrast the prevalence of images of "what is" with such images of "what could be" in order to not normalize images of their subjugation, which may reinforce notions of the human-supremacy hierarchy if no alternative vision is posed. Further, in our confrontation of speciesism, we want to very clearly signal our own respect for these beings, to encourage other humans to do the same, by sharing representations of them as they want to be -- by showing images of animals who are not (at least in the moment of the photo) being subjugated and degraded.

I (Kelly here) also think of it like this: We humans who use photographs of ourselves typically want to present ourselves to others as a respectable, unique and personality-rich individuals. So as an exercise in nonspeciesism, if these animals had Facebook pages (just hear me out), judging by the kinds of images that we humans post of ourselves, it seems reasonable to assume that we’d be more likely to see images like these as their profile photos, as opposed to images of the individuals suffering and being dominated and demeaned -- the kind of image we tend to choose to not share of our own selves. Since we know these animals prefer respect and equality to degradation and subjugation, we should present images of them as they want to be seen by those who currently see them otherwise and oppress them because of that perception.

This is not to say that images of the violence are not valuable. (When they are not just a horrifying graphic scene, that is, but images that clearly show the personhood and emotional experience of the victim.) We just want to make sure that we also show these animals as they want to be seen, and as they want to be, could be, and will be at the end of our story. To bring about species equality, we have to make it clear to people that our nonhuman sisters and brothers are people too.

So, here they are! If you follow our Organizing Principles, you are free to use any materials we create. Direct Action Everywhere is YOU!

What a Little Hen's Bloody, Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

A band embedded into a hen’s deformed and crippled leg is just one brutal example of so-called “humane” farming. (Left: normal leg of a chicken rescued from a battery cage facility. Right: swollen and deformed leg of a hen rescued from a "humane" and pasture raised facility.) 

What a Little Hen's Deformed Leg Can Teach Us About "Humane" Farming

by Wayne Hsiung


Chipotle and the “meat” industry want the world to believe that there’s a kind way to raise and kill animals.

But the reality is that the animals Chipotle kills are often raised and tormented in exactly the same conditions as every other fast food chain. The company admits in its own regulatory filings that it sources from “conventional” farms (search for “conventional” here) -- code speak for factory farms -- and that its brand is vulnerable to damage by activist groups. And even its so-called “responsibly raised” nonconventional suppliers offer little more than a window dressing difference from a factory farm. For example, Bob Comis, a pig farmer who has been haunted by the screams of the animals he raised and killed, discussed recently how a “deeply bedded pen” facility is an industrial, concrete shed with disgusting conditions and brutal crowding -- an industry average of 4 x 2.75 feet of living space for a 250 pound animal that is 4 feet long. (Imagine a 250 pound man living his entire life in a bathtub.) The only difference from a CAFO is that the farmer throws in some straw…. and, of course, charges a huge price premium.

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

Even on "humane" farms, pigs are intensively confined in as little as 5 square feet of space. 

But there are a small number of farms that genuinely raise their animals in pastures. Small scale and exorbitantly expensive, these farms are, in fact, growing in number, as niche foodie products of all types have exploded in the past 10 years. Does pasture raised farming present a reasonable alternative to conventional factory farms?  

Resoundingly, no.

First, we have no land. One illustrative example: giving a reasonable living standard to a single pig requires more than 2000 square feet of land (the size of a large-ish apartment), according to pig farmer Comis. This would require devoting almost 200 times more space than even a so-called “humane”, "free-range" farm, where the pigs (on average) receive 10.7 square feet of space. That's not feasible in a world where 30% of all land mass is already devoted to animal agriculture. Truly humane farming, in other words, is a physical impossibility.

Second, even pasture raised suppliers are horrifically cruel. Exploitation of animals, it turns out, necessarily requires… exploitation.

DxE activists saw one vivid example of this at a chicken rescue over this past weekend. Two hundred fifty gentle souls, depleted by three years of egg production, were about to be rewarded with a violent death, for the years of toil on behalf of a cruel master. Taken from a truly small scale farm that raised its chickens on pastures, you might think that they would be in good health.

A hen with a bloody, deformed, and crippled leg due to a band embedded into her by a callous master. 

But you would be wrong. Afflicted with all manner of ailments, from vent blockages to respiratory infections to parasites, the chickens were far from happy and healthy. But perhaps most disturbingly, dozens of the hens were limping severely or completely crippled because, it turns out, their master never bothered to remove the leg bands from their young feet. As the chickens grew, the bands constricted their legs, causing bloody and grotesque deformities, swelling, and permanently crippling many of them. We spent hours grooming, cleaning, and carefully clipping the leg band off of these poor souls, hours that a farmer at ANY scale simply would not have. Because caring for an animal properly, it turns out, requires…. well, time and care. Time and care that a for-profit business of any size simply does not have.

At this point it seems almost unnecessary to offer a third reason that “humane” animal farming is simply an impossibility: the inevitability of killing. We have noted previously that almost all of the animals killed in animal agriculture are killed as children -- babies, in some cases. A “broiler chicken” that might have a natural lifespan of 8 years, for example, is typically killed at 6 or so weeks. Pigs that can live for over a decade are murdered at 6 months, when their still juvenile bodies are young and supple. Even dairy cows, whom farmers have an incentive to keep alive longer as milk producers, are typically slaughtered at 5 years of age, a mere one fourth of their natural lifespan.

Each of these animals did not want to die. They were welcomed into the universe of stimulation and experience, meaning and fulfillment, that we all call life. And by killing them, we take that from them -- we take everything from them -- for the sake of a juicy piece of flesh.

And when an individual animal -- scared and alone -- sees that her life is about to be taken, as Bob Comis notes, she completely loses it. Scrambling desperately to free herself from her tormentors, wailing in terror at her impending doom, and even engaging in self harm in a desperate attempt to escape her fate… this (and not Chipotle’s Orwellian happy meat fantasy) is the reality of humane farming.

And this is why DxE’s campaign to bust the humane myth is so absolutely vital. We cannot allow violent corporations to take everything from the weakest and most vulnerable among us… and pretend they are doing the oppressed a kindness. 

With 37 cities, increasing public attention, and a shift even in the largest animal non-profits (PETA and COK, for example, have recently taken a stand against "humane" farming), our story is finally gaining the traction that the animals desperately need. But we need your help in keeping our momentum going. So join us, and activists all over the world, in speaking clearly and loudly

Pastured raised or battery caged. Free range or factory farmed. Small scale or industrial-sized. It matters not a bit. Because it's not Food. It's Violence. 

When a Hero Joins You

Activists in Australia with the message: It's not Food. It's Violence. Photo courtesy of Patty Mark and  Animal Liberation Victoria .

Activists in Australia with the message: It's not Food. It's Violence. Photo courtesy of Patty Mark and Animal Liberation Victoria.

When a Hero Joins You

by Wayne Hsiung

It's odd and a little awkward when one of your inspirations as an activist joins a campaign you are an organizer for. Part of me thinks that we should all just step out of the way and let Patty Mark run the show! 

But this is how movements grow. We see the horrors, and we crawl into a dark corner to cry. We pick ourselves up, wipe away the tears, and decide to take action: "No more tears. No more shame. No more lies, and no more pain. It's time to take a stand." We find guides and teachers, who show us tactics, strategy -- and, perhaps most important, ideas -- that we can... that we MUST.... spread far and wide. And if our movement is as strong as I know it to be, we see those ideas blossom even in the most unexpected of places. 

Patty Mark performing an open rescue. 

Patty Mark performing an open rescue. 

Patty has been a guide and inspiration to DxE, from afar, in more ways than one. And her words are well worth heeding

I left the United States in 1973 and traveled the world with my Australian husband. It was during this time, and especially during the past 30 years, that I have been stepping across the line that humans draw to separate us from other animals. I routinely enter the barren and dismal world we give to farmed animals. I hear their screams and witness their fear and suffering in hundreds of places including slaughterhouses, industrialized farms, darkened sheds, open paddocks, feedlots and inside transport trucks/ships on four continents. There is nothing humane on their side of the line. [emphasis added]

It's not about how we 'care for' or treat the billions of animals we mass produce to keep in line, it's about erasing the line altogether. Humans are incredible animals, but we can also be a very selfish species--we so often put ourselves first. We can and must open our minds and hearts. Promoting and/or consuming animal products deepens the rut that is grinding down our humanity, our health and the future of the planet.

Help us step across the line that separates human from non-human animals, and erase it all together. Dog or cat, human or rat, we are all equal. We love our mothers. We miss our friends. And we are desperate when we are alone or in pain.

And we all have the basic right to be free from violence. 

Thank you ALV and Patty. And thank you to all the activists all over the world who fight for the rights of animals. It is because of you that, some day soon, our animal friends, who have for millennia lived in downtrodden communities that lie underneath -- broken down and brutalized by misguided traditions and bloodthirsty corporations -- finally see the light and freedom that they have always deserved. 

Rescuing Hens with Animal Place


Last Friday, Organizers Kelly and Brian helped Animal Place rescue 755 hens from a concentration camp in California's central valley. The next day, several of our activists went to Animal Place's Rescue Ranch in Vacaville, to assist with the girls' health checks.

Working one-on-one with real rescued individuals is very important, first and foremost to the people we're helping, but also because it motivates us in our activism for their cousins. Feeling their little heartbeats and the warmth of their bodies, watching them explore and socialize, hearing them talk to you, and looking them in the eyes turns this abstract, removed idea of "chickens who are suffering" into a much more tangible and powerful conception of real, breathing, living individuals. They are the reason we fight, they are the real faces we fight for.

The "free range" prisons where they had spent their lives were large, crammed, stifling, stale, ammonia-filled sheds, hot in the summer, full of feces and the noise of the hens' calls. Many of the girls had respiratory problems. Every hen had part of her beak cut off as an infant, and was completely covered in lice, many with large colonies of egg clusters the size of my fingernails. And though they were young, because they are forced to lay more eggs than their bodies can handle for long, several were suffering prolapses. Like most hens exploited for their eggs, all were to be gassed once "spent."

At least, those are the external conditions we observed being imposed on them. Internally, on account of my human privilege, I can hardly begin to imagine what they experienced. In their position, I would have felt terribly trapped, not just by the spatial restrictions and the physical immobility of being so tightly packed into that space with other people, but how maddening would it be to not be able to escape the smell or the noise either? How frustrating would it be to have difficulty picking up food, and to not be able to feel the world as I do now with intact fingertips? How infuriatingly irritating would it be to have lice crawling all over me, day in and day out, my whole life? And to never get a deep breath in? How exasperating.

When we were at the sanctuary after the rescue, I found that time and time again, when I picked up one girl after another for a health check, many would lie calmly in my lap, and turn their head around to look me straight in the eye, then quirkily cock their head -- as birds do -- and cluck curiously, as though to ask me what I, this strange giant, was doing to them. But most of them trusted me and let me go about examining them. They were all very eager to explore every inch of the barn, and some would come stand beside the humans doing health checks (and in some instances perch on a shoulder), just watching what we were doing to their sisters. While I held them in my lap, some of them would gently grab my thumb with their little feet, and it flooded me with protective feelings, just as an infant human grabbing your finger does.

I cannot stop seeing this one little girl who didn't want to be caught and checked, but when I turned her on her side and placed her in my lap, she calmed right down, and just looked up at me so casually and by her delicate little cluck I could swear she was just saying, "Oh, hello there, how are you today?" My heart skipped a beat and the moment nearly drew a tear out of my eye, because she was just so sweet, so pure, so totally and completely without hatred or anger or any of these nasty emotions we humans get so hung up on. She's just a youthful child, who wants to explore and play and love. She had just spent her life in a cramped, filthy concentration camp, and here she was just happily moving on with her life three hours later. Though I insist that offensive violence is wrong no matter who the victim, her incredible innocence just made me feel the atrocity that much more intensely.

I am very relieved that they are now almost all -- excepting a few girls in critical condition -- safe and cared for, most adopted out to new homes and some remaining at the sanctuary. But while I smile at the thought of their safety, I cannot help but think of and grieve deeply for the millions who were taken to a kill floor today.

Fight for them, until every animal is free.


Friday Rescue at the Concentration Camp:

Saturday Health Checks at Animal Place's Vacaville Rescue Ranch:

Bird Brained? You Must be Pretty Damn Smart!

In everything from the motions of her head, to the tone of her calls, the common chicken is expressing intelligence, sophistication, and emotion in ways that we are just beginning to understand. 

In everything from the motions of her head, to the tone of her calls, the common chicken is expressing intelligence, sophistication, and emotion in ways that we are just beginning to understand. 

Bird Brained? You Must be Pretty Damn Smart!
by Wayne Hsiung

Scientific American recently had a wonderful piece about the astonishing discoveries in chicken intelligence over the past few years. An excerpt:

Few people think about the chicken as intelligent, however. In recent years, though, scientists have learned that this bird can be deceptive and cunning, that it possesses communication skills on par with those of some primates and that it uses sophisticated signals to convey its intentions. When making decisions, the chicken takes into account its own prior experience and knowledge surrounding the situation. It can solve complex problems and empathizes with individuals that are in danger.

These new insights into the chicken mind hint that certain complex cognitive abilities traditionally attributed to primates alone may be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously thought. The findings also have ethical implications for how society treats farmed chickens: recognizing that chickens have these cognitive traits compels moral consideration of the conditions they endure as a result of production systems designed to make chicken meat and eggs as widely available and cheap as possible.

Among the incredible abilities discussed by the article: 

  • Deception: Roosters will trick rivals by selectively using vocal or visual mating calls, depending on whether the rival is present.
  • Language: Chickens have highly varied and context dependent calls in response to prey, using specific vocalizations to match the particular threat faced by the flock. 
  • Empathy: Mother hens who see their chicks in duress or pain will exhibit the same signs of stress, even if they themselves are not suffering. 

Read the full piece here

But there's something missing, even, from all of these studies: personhood. I cared for two broiler chickens for a few months many years ago. They were rescued from a live slaughterhouse in Chicago. And the thing that struck me most about interacting with them was their unique personalities... the way they each defied conventional stereotypes of species and gender. 

Roosters are known for being loud, domineering, and violent. Yet Phillip was a meek soul who hardly made any noise at all. 

Marta was a hen, and significantly smaller than Phillip. Yet she would not hesitate to chase him around, to peck and scare him, when a delicious treat was presented. 

They had personal tastes -- Phillip likes greens, Marta liked fruit. They had different communication styles -- Marta was a loud clucker while Phillip would use his body and head. And they had vastly differing reactions to human contact. Phillip positively sought it out and, if Marta was not screening him, would run up and wait for a scratch, even when food was not presented. Marta, in contrast, was strong and independent, and while extremely appreciative of the treats I brought, would otherwise do her own thing in the corner of the room.

When behavior is so complex, so strategic, so emotionally expressive, and so individually varied across members of the species, I don't know how one can fail to conclude the existence of not just sentience (which I believe, following Singer, should be the criterion for moral consideration) but even a form of wisdom. The problem, however, is that people do not recognize this wisdom because it's communicated in a form that human beings do not grasp. (For example, the slight bobs of a rooster's head might seem robot-like to a human... but to a chicken, they are a way to flirt!) 

So the next time calls you a bird brain, just smile and nod you head. Even if birds were dumb, they are beautiful creatures who do not deserve to be tormented or killed, as is the fate of so many billions today. But, as with so many other instances of species prejudice, when we start seeing through their eyes, and understanding them on their terms, it turns out they're not so dumb after all. 

A Roadblock in the Intersection

A Roadblock in the Intersection

I recently wrote to a popular feminist group about the intersection of sexism and speciesism.

Their response was problematic.

The group shares a great deal of analytical material on intersectionality within the humans species, and I was deeply disappointed by their unwillingness to consider the role of a widespread form of discrimination, dominance, and violence in patriarchal culture.

They chose to not critically analyze the status quo's position that might makes right, that sexual exploitation is okay (remember, the dairy industry actually calls it a "rape rack"), that killing someone who does not want to die for profit (power) is acceptable, and that domination is fine in the case of some groups of beings being victimized. Instead, they quite confusingly asserted that speaking up for ALL females is not intersectional, because that would infringe on the cultural norms of some violently dominant beings.

The subjugation of the human female body by the dominant male body will never stop unless we address the subjugation of the nonhuman body by the dominant human body. (Remember too that investigations of dairy farms routinely catch farmers hitting the female cows while calling them "cunt" and "whore" and other misogynist terms of subjugation. And what is a "bitch" but a being who resists the man trying to forcibly use her body for his profit?)

The person I communicated with wrote the following in response to my suggestion that they consider and share this article: "We are unable to post this article, because it does not support our mission of being inclusive and intersectional. We can't be prescriptive about eating, because meat-eating is important to a lot of cultures, and we're a global and intersectional collective."

Right, because nothing any feminist ever does puts the needs of the oppressed before things like "culture"?

And "meat-eating"? You mean "animal-eating." You mean "weaker-being-killing." You mean "speciesism." You mean "violence." You mean "dominance." You mean "subjugation." And you mean "patriarchy." Check that human privilege. Feminists must speak up against ALL oppression.

When we reduce animals to "meat" and talk about how (and "what") people eat, we set up a framing that allows people to perceive our assertion that dominance, violence, and discrimination are unjust as being non-intersectional, because they're not thinking about that dominance, violence, and discrimination. They're locked in their speciesist society's insistence that animals are ours to use.

NO ONE is anyone else's to use.

I hope that all self-indentified feminists will continue to speak up about the intersections of oppression, and further -- as this is the only way we will dismantle misogynist culture -- to come to speak up for all females, and against all subjugation.

And it is our responsibility as advocates of justice to always challenge ourselves, each other, and others to consider and combat the intersections of all oppressions.


Caring for Hens (Video)

DxE activists woke before the crack of dawn this past Saturday to head over to Animal Place to volunteer on a cold, rainy day. We were split up into two groups, one at the main sanctuary and the other at the rescue barn. While much of the day was focused on basic tasks, such as cleaning, setting out straw, and moving refuse to the compost pile, we also had the opportunity to perform health checks on a few dozen hens rescued from an egg-laying facility. 

In California, virtually all egg-laying hens are deemed "disposal problems" after their egg production wanes. Their bodies are too weak and wiry to be used for flesh. And so, at a mere two years of age, the hens will all be killed... unless activists such as the incredible people at Animal Place step up.

The hens were impressively calm in the hands of complete strangers. 

The hens were impressively calm in the hands of complete strangers. 

On this particular day, a few hundred hens had just been moved from a rescue facility to the main sanctuary. And our task, after being trained by the wonderful Celeste and Elizabeth at Animal Place, was to perform a health check on the hens to ensure they were suitable for adoption, and/or release into the general sanctuary population. We started out by checking their heads and eyes, to ensure there were no injuries or abnormalities. We then opened the hens' tiny little mouths to see if they had any sores inside their mouth cavity. We proceeded to check their crop, their keel bone, and even their vent, for abnormalities or infections. And we trimmed both feathers and toenails too, to prevent infection and excessive growth, and to ensure that the hens were in good shape to be released into the flock. 

While we learned a lot, perhaps the most important aspect of the experience was the opportunity to bond with individual hens. When you see them in pictures, or even in person when the hens are all bunched up into a mass, it's hard to identify them. They are just a crowd, a flock, a mass -- not individuals that we can easily empathize with. But when a sanctuary worker puts an individual hen into your care, suddenly the relationship transforms. They are now not just animals, not just chickens... they are our wards and responsibilities. And we begin to notice how each is different from all the others. 

One will cluck and scramble, from the moment the health check begins. Another seems to positively enjoy the experience (or at least is so accustomed to it that she can sit calmly while being poked and prodded). Some are extraordinarily talkative, clucking through the entire process. Others are astonishingly quiet. But what one cannot deny, after these sorts of interactions, is that every hen, in all her uniqueness, has a strong will -- frustrations and desires; fears and feelings of relief. It is that will to experience the world under her own control -- to live -- that makes each hen's life and freedom so important. 

After spending the morning caring for hens, we went on the usual sanctuary tour and got to see some of the other animals.

It was a beautiful day, and one that we hope to repeat sometime soon. I hope some of you can join us!

See more pictures from our work day below! 

Feminism & Liberationism

Feminism & Liberationism

Last weekend, a few of our Organizers led a presentation and engaging discussion on the intersection of sexism and speciesism, and the importance of feminism to the animal liberation movement (and vis versa).

Download a PDF of the presentation and key discussion questions here!

Some of the key points we discussed:

  • Male-dominated sexism results in the subjugation of the nonmale body ("misogyny" or, systematically, "patriarchy") and human-dominated speciesism results in the subjugation of the nonhuman body. Both of these discriminations thrive on the principle of "might makes right." When fully realized, both discriminations render the "inferior" group as the property of the male human animal. Such a structuring of society "... is conceivable only in the context of a worldview in which bodies are things rather than selves” (Pattrice Jones).
  • These discriminations operate through the creation and assumption of false, Otherizing dualisms that deny the existence of gradation, such as: Male/female, white/nonwhite, human/animal (as though a chimpanzee is more closely related to a catfish than a human), reason/emotion, nature/culture. Sexism and speciesism are both products of this separation between two groups where one is elevated by normalizing the devaluation and subjugation of the other. Identifying someone as being "different enough" is used as a justification for treating them without consideration for their needs.

  • When images of nonhuman animals -- who have long been perceived as being inferior -- are applied to female human animals ("bitch"/"chick"/"cow"), women are rendered as being as inferior to men as those other animals are already assumed to be. Since those nonhumans are already perceived as things to use, such identifications imply that men are entitled to exploit women.

  • Woman as a “bitch” carries a misogynist implication which becomes even more clear when taken into consideration the ways in which breeders treat female dogs: Female dogs are not only things to use to attain profit, but are treated with contempt, because they actively fight back against their oppressors, refusing to be passively raped. (Note that the word "bitch" is typically used on women in a position of power -- the term is meant to suggest that the woman does not know her "place" as a subordinate.) Using the demeaning term also implies that how we treat that animal (and so by extension, how that woman being called a "bitch" is treated as a consequence for that non-normative female dominance) is inherently her fault -- the word suggests that she is simply by nature supposed to be raped and used as a machine for profit. This is victim-blaming.

  • As activists, we may feel compelled to "do whatever we can" for the animals, but it is imperative that we think critically about how our actions and behaviors might just counter-productively reinforce an oppressive norm -- thereby perpetuating all oppression, including our main target of speciesism.

  • Sexualizing violence against females human animals in the aim of "selling" the idea that violence against nonhuman animals is wrong is problematic. As is calling a female human who is wearing fur a “hag” or “cunt” (reducing her to her female-specific part and associating that female form with contempt). Wishing violence on her for that action is just as misogynist and problematic, and note that men wearing leather receive no such hateful sentiment, much less the subjugating words or expressions of a desire for violence to put their body in its “place.”

  • When we talk about females (human or not) and when we interact with humans of any sex or gender identity (activist or not), we have a responsibility to be mindful of how our words and behavior may be reinforcing oppressive partiarchal and speciesist norms.

  • As an activist group, we need to be mindful of our behaviors and help each other create and maintain a safe space where activists don’t feel subjugated by an objectifying male-dominated gaze, and where activists are able to express emotional authenticity.

  • As liberationists we also have a responsibility to not frame the animals we speak of with a lens that reinforces their objectification -- we must be careful to not use words and images that brutally reduce those individual someones to objects.