The Viva Vine: vol #6, no #3: May / June 1997

Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs
Karen Davis with rooster Polo
Karen Davis with rooster Polo
Photo by Linda Spillers
The Gazette Newspapers, 1996

A new book by chicken champion Karen Davis convinces us that compassion is our only choice

a review by Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.

Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry,
by Karen Davis, Ph.D. Book Publishing Company, $12.95.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.
--William Blake
"Auguries of Innocence"

If a robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage,
How feels heaven when
Dies the billionth battery hen?
--Spike Mulligan
British commentator

Any person with a degree of compassion and sensitivity would be "in a rage" after reading Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. For, with eloquence and thoroughness (there are 591 footnotes), Karen Davis shows how in order to maximize profits, chickens are treated not as living, feeling beings, but as units of production, denied exercise, space to move freely, fresh air, sunlight and opportunities to fulfill their individuality, normal behavior patterns and natural instincts. If, as Mahatma Gandhi has stated, "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated," this book, and others on intensive livestock agriculture, indicate that our society deserves a very severe condemnation. As Karen Davis puts it, "Wherever we are, we are morally obligated to end the oppression. Until [battery cages] have been discontinued, our species stands condemned of a criminal relationship with the living world."

Karen Davis is a person who actively rescues chickens from factory farms. She then cares for them as though they were her own children. Karen Davis's passion for chickens is as strong as any can be. I have often marveled at how someone who loves chickens as much as she does can conjure up the courage to delve so thoroughly into the horrors of their lives in industrial agriculture.

Horrors such as:
Male-chick disposal: Since they are of no value in the production of eggs, male chicks--a quarter billion a year--are necessarily disposed of at the hatchery. There are no laws to protect the chicks from any cost-efficient (read: cruel) method of disposal the producer chooses.

Tremendous crowding: Though a hen has a wingspan of 30 to 32 inches, she is oppressively confined to an average living space of 48 square inches (about 7" x 7").

Mutilation: Because of the crowding and other unnatural conditions, chickens tend to peck at one another with harmful consequences. To avoid hurting profits, producers de-beak the birds, a very painful process that causes prolonged suffering or early death.

Toxic air: Hens constantly breathe in toxic ammonia from decomposing uric acid in the manure pits below their cages.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the late Nobel laureate in literature, was fond of saying, "I am a vegetarian for health reasons--the health of the chicken." Karen Davis discusses just how unhealthy modern "broilers" and egg-laying chickens are because of their horrible living conditions. Among the debilitating diseases the book considers are foot and leg deformities, fatty-liver syndrome, swollen-head syndrome, salmonella infection, coccidiosis, mycotoxicosis (fungal poisoning), pulmonary-hypertension syndrome, Mareks disease, infectious-bursal disease and several types of bone diseases.

In Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, Davis focuses nearly exclusively on issues of animal cruelty. I believe that the book could have been even more effective if it gave more information on how consuming chickens and eggs is harmful to human health and to the environment. Many arguments could have been made against the popular notion that chicken is a health food. Chicken flesh and eggs are high in fat, cholesterol and animal protein--with no fiber or complex carbohydrates--and therefore contribute to many degenerative diseases. The book does note that a million-hen egg complex produces 125 tons of chemically polluted manure every single day, which ends up in rivers and streams. But this incredible fact might have been expanded on in a chapter entirely dedicated to the disastrous environmental effects of poultry production.

Still, without hesitation, I strongly suggest that every vegetarian and animal-rights advocate read this book to add to his or her knowledge of and sense of outrage about the brutal conditions under which chickens are raised today. People who still eat chickens and eggs should also read it to become aware of the tremendous cruelty and pain inflicted in the production of their food.

Richard H. Schwartz is a professor of mathematics at the College of Staten Island. He is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism; Judaism and Global Survival; and Mathematics and Global Survival. He is a patron of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society.
His E-mail and World Wide Web addresses are:
-- Email:
-- in the "Rebbes" section

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