Unfortunately, chickens, other poultry, and fish are excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act (rabbits are considered poultry under this Act). The Act only applies to cows and pigs, although there is considerable debate how well these laws are actually enforced. Many people witnessed the inhumanity displayed at the Wiles Farm in Canton when several news channels broadcasted the story. As a result, according to the Human Farming Association (GFA), the prosecutor assigned to the case "received literally thousands of letters, faxes, emails, and phone calls from citizens all across the nation who were appalled by the horrific events at Wiles Farm, and who were asking that appropriate criminal charges be filed in this case."
The story, as too often the case, is about corporate profits and the disappearance of family farms. The result of corporate interests is harm to the environment in addition to the animal suffering. The GFA reports,
"The take-over of agriculture in the U.S. by large corporations has allowed a larger number of animals to be produced more quickly and for less money. Agribusiness has reaped great profits while keeping consumer prices low. But the real costs of factory farming - in terms of the loss of family farms, food-borne illness, damage to the environment, and animal suffering - have been tremendous."
Since poultry is not included in the Humane Slaughter Act, the mistreatment of these animals is nothing short of disturbing. Joy Mench, who runs the Center for Animal Welfare at the University of California, notes that often eight chickens or more are crammed into cages measuring 20 inches wide by 19 inches deep. This many birds in one cage barely allow the chicken to stand, let alone turn around. In addition, their beaks are often removed; Mench reports,
"...the hens you'd see on most egg farms wouldn't have any beaks. The farmers cut them off, so you'd see a hen face with a stump. Farmers do that because when chickens get crowded together, they develop abnormal behavior, they can peck each other to death."
Unfortunately, good intent often goes unrealized as many "free-range" policies are so loosely defined and enforced that one can never be certain that even these chickens live as required. However, I would rather take a chance on these eggs than the alternative. The bigger picture, however, is the cruelty of factory faming, and the idea that many Americans remain oblivious to this idea.
The following quote by moral philosopher, Peter Singer, in his book "Animal Liberation" is quite powerful, which in addition to the insights of many vegitarian friends, has prompted my conversion to a vegitarian diet. Singer wrote, "Those who, by their purchases, require animals to be killed have no right to be shielded from the slaughterhouse or any other aspect of the production of the meat they buy. If it is distasteful for humans to think about, what can it be like for the animals to experience it?"
This realization applies to every aspect of human consumption that inflicts pain and suffering on animals. To ignore this reality is synonymous with actively supporting it. For years I avoided the idea of vegetarianism and justified my diet any number of ways. Surprising, I have found that it has not been that difficult without meat, as there are a lot of great meat substitutes. But most importantly, I feel a lot better about myself- even if I am a dollar poorer every time I buy a dozen eggs.