PETA and KFC: “no differences of opinion about how animals should be treated”

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has invoked Mead’s quotation to pat itself and its supporters on their welfarist backs for the agreement by the Canadian division of Kentucky Fried Chicken to “purchase 100 percent of its chickens—through a phase-in program—from suppliers that use ‘controlled-atmosphere killing’ (CAK), the least cruel method of bird slaughter available. CAK works by replacing birds’ oxygen with a mixture of nonpoisonous inert gasses to gently put them ‘to sleep.’”

In addition, KFC Canada has agreed to add what PETA characterizes as a “totally cruelty-free option” to its menu in 65% of its Canadian stores: a faux chicken sandwich that will come in a wrap with non-vegan mayonnaise. Moreover, KFC Canada has agreed to “[i]mprove its animal welfare audit criteria to reduce the number of broken bones and other injuries suffered by birds,” urge (but not require) its suppliers to make other welfare improvements, and to form an animal welfare advisory council. And PETA will be empowered: KFC will allow “PETA to review its animal welfare audit forms every six months.”

PETA, “thrilled to announce” what it characterizes as an “historic new animal welfare plan,” “enormous victory,” and “historic victory!” has officially ended its boycott of KFC Canada. But PETA warns that “the cruelty in other nations continues.”

Poor Margaret Mead must not merely be rolling over in her grave; she must be spinning at high speed.

The PETA/KFC agreement is a textbook example of the failure of animal welfare reform.

Consider the following:

First, to call this a “victory” for animals is the height of irony. This agreement is most certainly a “victory.” But it is a victory for the Canadian poultry industry, which will actually enjoy greater production efficiency and profit.

In its Analysis of Controlled-Atmosphere Killing vs. Electric Immobilization from an Economic Standpoint, PETA argues for the gassing, or “controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK)” 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 “CAK 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 “CAK lowers labor costs” by reducing the need for certain inspections, reducing accidents, and lowering employee turnover. CAK 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 analysis is consistent with that done by the Humane Society of the United States, which analyzed a considerable amount of data and concluded:

CAK results in cost savings and increased revenues by decreasing carcass downgrades, contamination, and refrigeration costs; increasing meat yields, quality, and shelf life; and improving worker conditions. Without live shackling and electrical stunning, CAK results in fewer broken bones and less bruising and hemorrhaging. The reduction in carcass defects increases boning yield and deboned meat quality. CAK has been shown to reduce bruising by as much as 94 percent and bone fractures by as much as 80 percent. Conservatively assuming that CAK increases yield only 1 percent, a plant processing 1 million broilers per week with an average dressed carcass weight of 4.5 pounds and wholesale price of $0.80 per pound would increase annual revenue by $1.87 million after adopting CAK. (citations omitted)

And industry agrees. According to PETA’s Poultry Producer CAK Endorsements, the poultry industry widely recognizes that CAK means a better bottom line:

Brandons haven’t just benefited from better meat quality and welfare improvements. The advantages have been seen right across the plant. … [There has been] a 50% reduction in hang-on-line employee costs. Line speed has increased [by 20%]. … [Y]ield has gone up by up to 1.5% ….
—Case study pertaining to Brandons Plc by Anglia Autoflow

On the turkey line … each hanger places around 7.66 birds per minute in the shackles … compared to around 5.125 birds per minute in a U.S. plant. This gives a pounds-per-man-hour improvement of almost 50%, because the hangers do not have to remove the birds from the cages by hand, like they do in a traditional U.S. … live-hanging operation.
—Watt Poultry USA article concerning Amadori, February 2006

Around 140,000 broilers per day are processed at the Flixton plant …. A company official said that the CAS was installed to improve bird welfare [and] worker ergonomics. As a side benefit, the plant now runs the line faster than before. Flixton processed only 110,000 birds per day prior to installing the CAS.
—Watt Poultry USA article, February 2006

“There’s less cutting and trimming on the line because there are many fewer … spots and other damage that can come from electrical stunning,” says Henry Kuypers, production manager for the Pingo Poultry plant …. Gas stunning has allowed [the company] to produce a tender product [in] just three hours … [as opposed to] as long as 12 or even 24 hours. “This variable maturation period also affected product uniformity,” Kuypers explains.
—“CAS-ting Call,” Poultry magazine, October 2006

We are starting to quantify the improvements in yield and labor, but visually we already see the benefits in wings, wing meat, and breast meat.
—Dale Hart, general manager of Cooper Farms

[T]he CAS system improves the environment for the workers in the live receiving area, improves the ergonomics of hanging live turkeys, and reduces carcass damage.
—Watt Poultry USA article concerning Cooper Farms, November 2006

Amadori was interested in CAS because the company wanted to improve ergonomics for the live hangers, animal welfare, labor efficiency, and meat quality. [T]he CAS has given them improvements in each of these areas ….
—Watt Poultry USA article, February 2006

The installation of gas stunning markedly reduced downgrades due to hemorrhages and bone fractures and improved fillet color and texture compared to previous stunning with an AC water-bath unit. As in EU plants, MBA Poultry can justify gas stunning based on the contribution from incremental revenue, which more than offsets the additional capital and operating costs incurred.
—“Future of Gas Stunning,” Watt Poultry USA, April 2005

[M]eat quality has improved with use of the CAS, and there is less blood in the breast and thigh meat. [C]arcass bleed-out has not been affected by the switch from electrical stunning to CAS.
—Watt Poultry USA article concerning Le Clezio, February 2006

[W]hile trying to maximize yield while processing 11,000 birds per hour, we also have to take a lot of care to ensure that the meat is unmarked. CAS has resulted in very high standards in this aspect. . . . There’s [also] better working conditions for the team.
—Richard Wenneker, of Emsland Frischgefluegel

Meat quality has dramatically improved with no blood spots, and as a result, no trimming is required. This has seen notable benefits in an increase in yield. The cut-up operation now employs less people as a direct result of the benefits of … CAS.
—Case study pertaining to Prior Norge by Anglia Autoflow

So CAK reduces production costs and the slaughterhouses that supply KFC Canada would, in all likelihood, have switched to CAK on economic grounds anyway. Indeed, this is the modus operandi of the modern animal movement: identify practices that are not economically efficient and that are in the process of being changed by industry anyway. Launch a campaign to bring about what would happen in the natural course of events, declare victory, and fundraise. That is exactly what is happening here.

Second, PETA has handed KFC Canada nothing short of a public relations coup. PETA has ended its boycott of KFC Canada, and is claiming to have won its KFC cruelty campaign in Canada, although “the cruelty in other nations continues,” thus signaling to the public that those concerned about animals can once again eat at KFC Canada with PETA’s blessings. Indeed, PETA and KFC are now engaged in a public love fest. PETA claims that KFC will now “gently put [the chickens] …‘to sleep.’” According to the Toronoto Star, KFC Canada president Steve Langford stated that once he sat down with the PETA people, “‘we found out that we had no differences of opinion about how animals should be treated.’” Matt Prescott of PETA stated he believed “‘that KFC in Canada is genuinely concerned about animal welfare.’” Prescott added that “‘[a]ll we want is for KFC worldwide to do what KFC Canada has done.’”

Langford is reported to be “delighted with the agreement.” I bet he is. If I were he, I would also be delighted. He has lost nothing and he has gained PETA as an unpaid public relations firm.

Third, KFC is expanding its product line, offering a new PETA-approved “totally cruelty-free” KFC faux-chicken sandwich, which will be handled along with KFC’s meat products and will be prepared with non-vegan mayonnaise (unless the customer asks that it be held). So KFC will have a non-vegan option supported by PETA. People can now be “animal activists” by eating a non-vegan product at KFC and putting more money into the pockets of a corporation that sells death. But there is a tradition of such behavior. In a December 2006 article about Dan Mathews of PETA, Mathews and the writer went to McDonald’s to eat and the writer asked if it was okay to order a cheeseburger. Mathews is reported as saying “‘Order what you want,’ …. ‘Half of our members are vegetarian and half think it’s a good idea.’” Putting aside that Mathews eats at McDonald’s and tells the reporter to order what he wanted, and proclaims without apparent consternation that only half of the PETA membership is “vegetarian” (let alone vegan), Mathews himself ate a product—the “veggie burger”—which not even McDonald’s claims is vegetarian given that it is cooked on the same grill with meat products and handled along with animal products.

And the agreement is a victory for PETA, which long ago abandoned the animal rights approach in favor of pursuing its greater glory and the amount of its contributions. It’s all about PETA. The animals are just incidental.

The KFC/PETA “deal” demonstrates dramatically what is wrong with animal welfare. These campaigns perpetuate the confused idea that “animal rights” means putting a television in a torture chamber and do absolutely nothing to challenge the property paradigm. On the contrary, the welfarist approach reinforces the status of animals as nothing more than economic commodities. And it makes people feel better about animal exploitation. Moreover, these campaigns represent symbiotic relationships between industry and the animal advocacy movement.

To the extent that this situation illustrates the truth of Margaret Mead’s observation, it does so by reminding us that a small group of people can have a profoundly adverse impact on social progress. Many people are concerned about the ethics of animal use. But as long as the major so-called “animal rights” groups are telling them that they can satisfy their moral obligations by eating at KFC and other similar places (remember that PETA has had similar “deals” with McDonald’s and Burger King), the status quo will persist and the only progress that we will see is the increase in PETA’s revenues.

Gary L. Francione
© 2008 Gary L. Francione