The Friendly Face of Torture, Death, and Animal Exploitation

Dear Colleagues:

If you question whether animal welfare reform is in the interests of industry, look no further than the October 21, 2010 article in the New York Times about controlled-atmosphere stunning of poultry, which, as I discussed in an essay here in 2008, is promoted by PETA and PETA award-winning slaughterhouse designer, Temple Grandin.

From the New York Times article:

“When you grab a chicken, turn it upside down and put it on the line, it’s stress, stress, stress,” said Scott Sechler, the owner of Bell & Evans. “Our system is designed so that we put them to sleep without stress and we kill them without stress.”

Anglia Autoflow, the company that is building the knock-out systems for the two processors, calls the process “controlled atmosphere stunning,” but Mr. Pitman [owner of Mary's Chickens] said his company was considering the phrase “sedation stunning” for use on its packages. Also on the short-list: “humanely slaughtered,” “humanely processed” or “humanely handled.”

The trick, he said, is to communicate the goal of the new system, which is to ensure that the birds “not have any extra pain or discomfort in the last few minutes of their lives.”

Mr. Sechler said the system was designed to put birds to sleep gently, in the same way that a person undergoes anesthesia before surgery.

To evoke that image, he wants to put the words “slow induction anesthesia” on his packages and advertising, which already tell customers that the birds are raised in roomy conditions with natural light and given feed free of antibiotics or animal byproducts. Customers who want to know more will be able to go to the company’s Web site.

Mr. Sechler said the system he chose, after years of research, was better than similar gas-stunning systems used in Europe. Those systems, he says, often deprive birds of oxygen too quickly, which may cause them to suffer. They are also designed to kill the birds rather than simply knock them out, something that Mr. Sechler is not comfortable with.

“I don’t want the public to say we gas our chickens,” he said.

And, of course, better treatment means better meat:

Mr. Sechler and others promoting the new system said that they expected the meat to be of higher quality because the birds faced less stress and also there would be less bruising and broken wings when they died.

PETA, which promotes the gassing of chickens, also maintains that gassing is in the economic interests of producers. In its Analysis of Controlled-Atmosphere Killing vs. Electric Immobilization from an Economic Standpoint, PETA argues for the gassing of poultry, claiming that the electric stunning method of slaughter “lowers product quality and yield” because birds suffer broken bones and the process results in contamination dangerous to human health. The electric stunning method also “increases labor costs” in various ways. PETA argues that gassing “increases product quality and yield” because broken bones, bruising, and hemorrhaging are supposedly eliminated, contamination is reduced, “shelf-life of meat” is increased, and “‘more tender breast meat’” is produced. PETA also claims that gassing “lowers labor costs” by reducing the need for certain inspections, reducing accidents, and lowering employee turnover. Gassing provides “other economic benefits” to the poultry industry by allowing producers to save money on energy costs, and by reducing by-product waste and the need to use water.

This sort of campaign is doing nothing but making the public feel better about animal exploitation. Indeed, the large animal welfare groups have become active partners in animal exploitation by helping industry to put a little smiling happy face on death, torture, and exploitation while, at the same time, helping industry to make animal exploitation more economically efficient and profitable. If you are questioning whether “happy” meat is, and is intended to, make the public feel better about animal exploitation, you are not paying attention.

This “happy” exploitation nonsense represents a very big step backward. People are never going to go vegan if they believe that they can exploit morally. And that is exactly the message that the “happy” exploitation movement is trying to convey: we can continue to exploit animals and treat ourselves to animal products as long as animals are treated “humanely.” As Peter Singer has stated:

[T]o avoid inflicting suffering on animals—not to mention the environmental costs of intensive animal production—we need to cut down drastically on the animal products we consume. But does that mean a vegan world? That’s one solution, but not necessarily the only one. If it is the infliction of suffering that we are concerned about, rather than killing, then I can also imagine a world in which people mostly eat plant foods, but occasionally treat themselves to the luxury of free range eggs, or possibly even meat from animals who live good lives under conditions natural for their species, and are then humanely killed on the farm. (The Vegan, Autumn 2006.)

The “happy” exploitation movement represents the promise of “compassionate” exploitation so that we may indulge in the “luxury” of animal exploitation.

That’s a “luxury” that animals cannot afford.

There is no such thing as “humane” exploitation and even if there were, it would still involve the unjustifiable killing of sentient nonhumans. Singer and his “happy” exploitation movement are not bothered by killing because they do not believe that animals have an interest in continuing to live, as I have discussed in other essays, including these: 1, 2, as well as in my new book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?, in which I debate the “happy” exploitation movement with Professor Robert Garner.

If you are opposed to animal exploitation; if you regard animals as members of the moral community; if you reject the notions that nonhumans are just things that exist as resources for humans, you have one choice: go vegan. It is easy, better for your health and the planet, and, most important, it is the right and just thing to do. It’s what we owe other animals. If you are not vegan, then you are participating directly in animal exploitation. You don’t get off the moral hook by eating gassed chicken.

If you are vegan, then educate others about veganism in creative, non-violent ways.

The World is Vegan! If you want it.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione

Added October 26, 2010:

PETA put a press release praising Bell and Evans. PETA quotes Bell and Evans:

“We are pleased to once again lead the way for the rest of the chicken industry,” says Scott Sechler, Bell & Evans’ chair and president. “Animal welfare is a key component of our business; we put our money where our mouth is because it’s the right thing to do.

It should be noted that Mr. Sechler conveniently ignores that gassing poultry is economically beneficial for his business, as this PETA analysis shows.

And PETA states:

“By pledging to adopt a slaughter system that greatly reduces the suffering of chickens, Bell & Evans shows that animal welfare and good business go hand in hand,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman.

It’s all rather breathtaking. But then, PETA and Bell and Evans are partners in exploitation and it’s just business for both of them.

The only way that gassing chickens is good for Mr. Sechler’s business if he sells more dead chickens or he reduces his production costs or both. And it is clear that gassing chickens reduces production costs and an indulgence from PETA, Mr. Sechler can expect to sell more dead birds. And PETA proclaims a “victory” for the animals and then collects the donations that the public pays in gratitude for PETA making everyone feel better about eating chicken.

Bell and Evans wins. PETA wins. Only the animals lose.

And what about the principle that animal rights means veganism? Well, Ingrid Newkirk summed it all up: “Screw the principle.”

Go vegan. Unlike eating gassed chicken, it’s the right thing to do.

Gary L. Francione
©2010 Gary L. Francione