Gas the Chickens? Another Perspective
Both in her book Speciesism and her article “Animal Rights ‘Welfarists’:
An Oxymoron” (Satya, March 2005) Joan Dunayer stops
just short of calling United Poultry Concerns (UPC) a Nazi organization
of our effort to mitigate the torture inflicted on nine billion birds
in U.S. slaughterhouses each year. Specifically, we want to eliminate
the use of pre-slaughter electric shocks—misnamed “stunning”—the
procedure designed to paralyze the muscles of the birds’ feather
follicles while they are still fully conscious, in order to defeather
them once they are dead.
Under the current system, the birds must endure the slaughter process in a state
of terror, pain, paralysis, and unspeakable horror. In contrast, a pre-slaughter
method based on the use of argon or nitrogen gases could render the birds dead
in the transport crates prior to their entry into the slaughterhouse. Not only
would this prevent them from experiencing their necks being cut and, as often
happens, being scalded alive in the tanks; it would eliminate the use of pre-slaughter
electrical shock technology.
UPC actively promotes a vegan lifestyle while urging institutionalized animal
abusers to reduce the suffering they inflict. Does this make UPC a collaborator
with the oppressor as Dunayer suggests when she writes in her book that the only
difference between UPC and animal slaughterers is that “UPC staff won’t
commit the murders themselves”?
Dunayer charges people to consider nonhuman animals as individuals, yet seems
oddly indifferent to the billions of individuals in dire need of relief now.
Should we turn our backs on billions of actual birds in the name of an ideal
future that is nowhere in sight? Should we scoff at securing a little extra space
for hens in battery cages? Or should we ask ourselves whether, in a state of
helpless suffering, we would reject that modicum of relief? Are we really representing
a caged hen’s wishes when we say that she would reject a touch of comfort
short of total liberation? In any case, let us remember the extent to which people
in prison will often go for an extra bread crust or a cigarette butt. And who,
under any circumstances, would reject or criticize a less inhumane death for
themselves or for someone they loved?
Karen Davis, Ph.D.
President, United Poultry Concerns
Joan Dunayer deserves praise for writing about how language is used to oppress
others, but, like many academics, she sometimes shows a weak grasp of the practical
steps and pragmatic strategies that need to be taken along the way to animal
liberation (Satya, March 2005). From her ivory tower, Dunayer describes
repugnant” PETA’s campaign to push corporations, like McDonald’s
and KFC, to switch to controlled atmosphere killing—a move that would spare
millions of chickens a year hideous pain and misery. The fact is that while we
advocate veganism all day long in countless different ways, there is no magic
button to press that would immediately stop all the chickens in the fast food
industry from being slaughtered. If there were, we’d push it. And while
I would gladly give my own life if KFC would agree to serve only soy chicken,
that choice is also a fantasy. But what we hope to be able to do is to get these
massive corporations to render millions of chickens a year unconscious so that
they do not feel the massive bruises and breaks to their wings and legs caused
in the final minutes of their lives by rapid, clumsy handling and live-shackling.
The quest for personal purity needs to take a backseat to helping animals who
are in the kind of trouble none of us can yet stop entirely.
Ingrid E. Newkirk
President, PETA and author of Making Kind Choices
Proud Vegan Welfarist
I’m a “vegan welfarist” for the same reason Joan Dunayer is
not and Bruce Friedrich and Lauren Ornelas are: I believe it’s the most
effective way to intervene in the animal holocaust. (See interviews in “A
Whole New Alternative? ‘Compassionate’ Meat at Whole Foods,” Satya,
When it comes to social reform, moral absolutism and moral relativism aren’t
rivals; they’re strategic partners. Together, good cop-bad cop, they give
over 50 billion animals a year the best chance for the most relief in the least
time. When I “put myself in the chicken’s place,” as Bruce
Friedrich suggests, I want the welfarist and the abolitionist in my corner to
break open the very well-defended consciences of my tormentors.
Imagine this: You move to a new town, an idyllic place where lush green grass
grows copiously, a place filled with beautiful and fragrant flower gardens, an
arborous town from whose tall shade trees radiate the lovely sounds of singing
birds. Your neighbors are all wonderful people, generous and caring; you get
along well, and become the best of friends.
The joy and serenity of the town is reflected in the local government: progressive
and enlightened. The mayor, the police chief, the members of the town council
lead and manage the community in an easy-going, open, honest and non-authoritarian
manner. They are fair people and are committed to making each resident’s
daily life as pleasant and burdenless as possible. In the end, they kill you.
That is what compassionate meat is all about (see “A Whole New Alternative? ‘Compassionate’ Meat
at Whole Foods” in Satya, March 2005).
New York, NY