“Cheap chicken” can be found all over the United States, from grocery store shelves to fast food dollar menus. But everything is not always as it seems. There are many hidden costs to cheap animal products, and most of those aren’t monetary. So, what is the REAL price of cheap chicken?
The Horrors of Chicken Factory Farming
Factory farms have been selectively breeding chickens for decades to grow bigger and faster. Today, chickens on factory farms grow an average of six times faster than their counterparts from a century ago. Since their bodies did not evolve to carry so much extra weight, many suffer heart attacks as their tiny organs struggle to support this type of growth. A significant number of these birds cannot even stand up because their legs are not strong enough to support their extra weight. And sometimes, their legs break under the weight of their large bodies.
Chickens Living in Terrible Conditions
From birth to death, factory-farmed chickens have a miserable, tortured existence. They are crammed into barren barns by the thousands and have nowhere to roost or nest. They sit in the litter and waste that they and the other chickens produce. Most have chemical burns on their skin and feet from constantly sitting on the ammonia-soaked floor.
The barns that hold the chickens have no natural light. Instead, the only home they know stays dimly lit because dimmer light keeps the birds calm, which means they burn fewer calories. Burning fewer calories is essential because giant chickens mean more significant profits.
Many chickens do not even survive long enough to make it to the slaughterhouse due to the conditions in factory farms. The average mortality rate among chickens on factory farms is around 5%. That’s approximately 450,000 chickens that die on the barn floor each year. Dehydration, heart attacks, and disease are the leading causes of death. Part of a farmer’s daily routine is walking through the barns, removing and incinerating dead, dying, or sick chickens.
Large Companies Own Farmers
“These conditions are the byproduct of a system designed to maximize profits” for the company with little regard for the farmer or the chickens. Contract farmers are more of a babysitter than a farmer. They have little to no autonomy regarding how their chickens are raised and housed. Farmers are told what to do and how to do it. The large companies who hold the contracts dictate what conditions the chickens live in. If a farmer does not explicitly follow the guidelines set down by the company or if they speak out against the company or its practices, they stand to have their contract terminated or face retaliation.
These companies also only pay contract farmers for the chickens that make it to slaughter. Any profit loss caused by chicken deaths before slaughter falls squarely on the farmer, who is helpless to change this in any way because every aspect of chicken farming is controlled by the company the farmer works for.
Why Don’t Farmer’s Just Quit?
Losing a contract may not seem like the end of the world at first glance, but to a farmer who has put everything they own on the line, it’s a pretty terrifying prospect. Chicken farms are multi-million-dollar investments, and the farmer takes out the loan to build it. These massive loans are tied to the farmer’s land and property, which ultimately means they are trapped in their contracts whether they agree with the company operating procedures or not. “If they (farmers) stop growing chickens, they lose everything.”
So, where does a farmer turn when they realize it’s time to leave this cruel industry? What recourse do they have when the well-being of their entire family is on the line? Many farmers have appealed to the government for stricter laws and guidelines. Still, the chicken industry is a billion-dollar business, and they are not afraid to spend massive amounts of money on lobbying to keep the truth of what goes on behind closed doors away from the public. Some states have even made filming on factory farms illegal. What purpose could this serve other than hiding an awful truth.
Offering Farmers A Way Out of Animal AG
Some farmers are trying to shift from animal agriculture to various crops with the help of Mercy for Animals and vegan foods company, Miyoko’s Creamery. Both have recently introduced programs to help farmers transition away from raising animals, which will benefit both animals and the environment while also “boosting farmers’ economic outlook.”
Mercy for Animals’ Transfarmation Project seeks to help farmers who raise animals on a large scale transition their farms to grow crops like hemp, mushrooms, and hydroponic lettuce. MFA’s first phase will help ten lucky farmers walk away from factory farming. According to Mercy For Animals president Leah Garcés, “I’m not pretending that taking ten farmers out of factory farming is going to end it, but we’re trying to work collaboratively and be constructive about creating new jobs for those who want them.”
On the dairy front, Miyoko’s Creamery is teaming up with advocacy group, Farm Sanctuary, to help a California dairy farmer transition to plant agriculture in the next year. Miyoko’s will use the farmer’s land to further research and develop its vegan cheese and butter products. Farm Sanctuary hopes to replicate Miyoko’s results on more farms in the future.
Both programs are still in their infancy and many details, such as funding, have yet to be completely ironed out. Garcés acknowledges that the shift from one type of agriculture to another can be costly.
“I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I do plan to bring really smart people on board who do know,” she said. “There could be debt forgiveness or [crowdfunded] donations given to these farmers,” many of which never wanted a career in factory farming in the first place but only chose it to save the family’s land or because they desperately needed a job.
The Future is Vegan
Many organizations are working hard to transition farmers from animal-based farming into a kinder, safer, more peaceful future. As human populations around the globe increase, factory farming becomes even more dangerous for our planet. The actual cost of cheap chicken is steeped in animal abuse, human exploitation, antibiotic-resistant viruses, and world-changing pandemics, to name a few. Animal agriculture is not only torture for animals, but it is also terrible for farmers. It’s time to evolve past the lie of cheap meat and break free from the horrors that are hidden behind the closed doors of factory farms. There’s no better time to take animals off our plates and transition to a cruelty-free, vegan diet.