What Has Massive Breasts, a Weak Heart, and a Lifespan of 42 Days?

I didn’t come up with this clever title. Tom Philpott of Mother Jones did. His article on un-pastured poultry (a.k.a. confined chickens raised for meat) is great; it’s short and to the point. His article specifically targets Georgian chickens. The Peach State not only produces 130 million pounds of peaches a year, but also a mind-blowing amount of chickens. How do they do it? Get the chickens to grow faster.

Quantity: The state of Georgia is the largest producer of meat chickens (broilers) in the country and nearly all of the broilers are raised in close confinement systems. The state raises and slaughters 1.4 billion meat chickens every year, in a country that confines and slaughters 9.2 billion farm animals annually in factory farms. ‘ – Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Speed:A broiler can now go from hatchling to chicken nugget fodder in as little as 42 days.’ – Mother Jones

Bottom line: 1 out every 6 chickens produced and consumed in the United States comes from Georgia. Throughout Philpott’s article, he refers to a report published in 2010 by Georgians for Pastured Poultry. Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Impacts of Chicken Meat Factory Farming in the State of Georgia, he says, ‘reads like the black book of industrial chicken farming—a kind of dossier of the ills of rounding up billions (yes, billions) of birds into tight spaces and fattening them as quickly as possible.’ Georgians are fed up. Workers in these factories are treated poorly, chickens in this type of confinement are a public health risk and our government is asking for a bigger increase in the production line and even handing out financial incentives to do so.

Stats and quotes from Tom’s article:

  • The number of chickens produced annually in the United States has increased by more than 1,400 percent since 1950 while the number of farms producing those birds has dropped by 98 percent.
  • As recently as 1980, a finished broiler weighed in at about 3.8 pounds. Today, the figure is 5.65 pounds—a 33 percent increase in just three decades. Meanwhile, the time it takes to get them to slaughter weight has plunged. A broiler can now go from hatchling to raw material for chicken nuggets in as little as 42 days—representing a growth rate four times as fast as those that prevailed just 50 years ago.
  • For the birds themselves, it means *growing faster and bigger than either their joints or their cardiovascular systems can handle, creating mutant creatures routinely burdened with leg injuries and heart trouble.
  • [The report]…also features an apt summary of the dire conditions faced by workers in poultry slaughterhouses large enough to kill 200,000 birds in a single day. Because of reliance on fast kill lines, sharp knives, and relentless repetitive motion, poultry slaughterhouse work routinely ranks among the most dangerous of US occupations.
  • The Obama administration (sadly) is proposing new rules that would allow the industry to significantly speed up poultry kill lines, exacerbating all of these problems and giving (by its own account) a $250 million per year gift to the industry.

Read Tom Philpott’s full article here.

Read Georgians for Pastured Poultry’s report here.

{The report is ‘lavishly footnoted and was prepared with the help of grad students from Emory University’s Department of Environmental Health,’ according to Philpott. } It’s a good read.

*It is a common belief that hormones are used to make these chickens grow bigger and fatter when it is actually the result of breeding practices. These practices are also discussed in the article and report. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, hormones are allowed to be used in beef, but not in pork or poultry:

NO HORMONES (pork or poultry): 
Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

Well, that’s a relief. Not so fast. No hormones are a good thing, but it does not mean there aren’t other contaminates in our factory-farmed chickens. From caged confinement to the slaughterhouse, factory chickens may contain campylobacter, salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Awesome. Are chickens from small, local farms any different? I spoke with Jerry about this and asked him to explain how his chickens go from pasture to plate. He ended up writing an article about how his farm processes chickens and the differences in small-scale farming vs. factory-farming. In the next post, Jerry will walk us through this process and show us how he does it versus the majority of farms in America.

Next: From Pasture to Plate: Small-Scale vs. Factory-Farmed Poultry

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