The Viva Vine: vol #4, no #3: May/June 1995

Interview with Karen Davis,
President of United Poultry Concerns Humane Methods of Slaughter: Contradiction in Terms?

The VivaVegie Society: Some people wonder why you are working for a humane slaughter act for chickens. Does the working for amelioration of slaughter procedure somehow condone the eating of chickens, and isn't this something we should avoid?"

Karen Davis: I don't like working for a humane slaughter poultry law. It's very difficult to fit the effort to extend humane slaughter protection to poultry into a model of thought that considers the murder of these birds to be murder, no different from the murder of an innocent person. The slaughter of the innocent is intrinsically wrong. There is no such thing as humane slaughter; that is, "humane slaughter" is an oxymoron.

In practice, even in countries such as Canada and Great Britain where there are humane slaughter laws, the poultry industry is essentially ungovernable, for a variety of reasons. Governments generally support business, and business means mass producing birds as any other commodity -- getting as many birds out as expediently possible, adapting the slaughter process to commercial considerations at the expense of the birds. For example, in Great Britain, according to investigative reports that have been done, birds there, despite the laws, are continually being subjected to inadequately low currents just before slaughter, effectively immobilizing their bodies, but not rendering them unconscious or free of pain.

VVS: Laws, therefore, can give people a sense of false confidence that there is some humaneness going on when there isn't.

Davis: On the other hand, the fact that birds are excluded from a humane methods of poultry slaughter act suggests to the public that these birds are not even worthy of something so low and miserable as humane slaughter protection. It gives people the idea that, well, birds don't suffer as much as mammals, and it's incredible the extent to which this viewpoint prevails among all kinds of people, including some in the animal protection community -- despite all the evidence to the contrary. Incredible amounts of pain research have been done on birds demonstrating without any question that birds are highly sensitive beings. Birds have all the apparatus of pain. Pain receptors are distributed throughout their beaks and the rest of their system, their skin, etcetera, the same as mammals. Scientists who have conducted very horrific research on chickens, pigeons and other birds have concluded that the experience of pain and suffering in avian beings is comparable to that (and they use very circumspect and cautious language) of mammals -- sometimes even more so in certain areas of their bodies.

The problem we have is that we have over 30 million birds being slaughtered every day in this country and the number is growing. Now, what do we do about this? Do we do anything? Right now, without a humane methods of poultry slaughter law, there is no possibility of prosecuting any single solitary thing that takes place in a slaughter plant. I mean it's not even theoretically possible, because there is no law. The poultry industry does not even have the same requirements in regard to safety, so called food safety, as the so-called red meat industry. Of course the whole thing is rubbish in any case. The fact is, the poultry industry is 100% off the hook in every way.

VVS: Gary Francione, of the Animal Rights Law Clinic, takes a hard line approach, calling for nothing short of full rights for animals, saying that anything less leaves a crack in the door for the society to take away those rights.

Davis: But society can't take away animals' rights, because the animals don't have any rights in this society They don't have any legal standing. They are not recognized as beings with rights under the law.

VVS: Nonetheless, it is a dilemma for animal protection people, wouldn't you say, whether we should go "all the way" toward animal rights asking nothing less, or should we work within an animal welfarist system?

Davis: You can certainly frame your campaigns to alleviate the suffering of animals at human hands. You have to stick with your issue, but you can't let it overshadow you -- the issue has to be placed in a context of overall ethical concern. I think one of the things the animal community needs to be able to learn to do better is to think paradoxically instead of in terms of either/or.

VVS: Yes.

Davis: You know. I don't make any pretense to anybody that I'll be satisfied if we have a humane slaughter law. I mean if somebody were to ask me whether I think it's okay to slaughter poultry, and the question has been asked of me ("if we have a law, is it okay with you?"), I would say without any hesitation, "no, it isn't." However, as long as we're slaughtering them, I feel they are at least entitled to the consistent coverage with cattle and sheep. That's my answer. It's wrong, but they're at least entitled to this as we work towards a society which will one day consider it unthinkable to bring a creature into the world to be killed to satisfy human appetites.

VVS: That puts is very succinctly.

Davis: The one thing a humane poultry slaughter bill does is, and I'm not saying this is an excuse for it or a sufficient reason for it; but is does create an opportunity to talk about the issue and to acquaint people with some of the realities of poultry slaughter.

For $20/yr., become a member of United Poultry Concerns. Write United Poultry Concerns, P.O. Box 59367, Potomac, MD 20859. Call 301-948-2406.

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