Chickens Are Cooped Up in Labs. Please Help Us Free Them.

The Rise for Animals Team, May 3, 2024

May 4th is International Respect for Chickens Day, “an annual project launched by United Poultry Concerns in 2005” that “protests [chickens’] suffering and abuse” in, among other human enterprises, agribusiness and experimental research.

Many of us know that chickens are one of the most prolifically farmed animals, with upwards of 74 billion of them brutalized and killed for human consumption each year. Fewer of us, however, realize that unknown numbers of chickens are also exploited in the name of science. 

Chickens were one of the first nonhuman populations that humans sought to control, and, indeed, some of the “earliest written records” of other-than-human animal research actually concern chickens. 

Horrendously, so do many of the more (and most) recent records, as chickens’ lives “continue to be exploited and commodified”. 

Upwards of 74 billion chickens are brutalized and killed for human consumption each year.

It appears that, just as is true for mice and other common research subjects, exploitation begets exploitation

That is, because we have exploited chickens for so long, we have a “large amount of literature on their physiology”, and this leads animal researchers to choose them frequently as “a representative non-mammalian vertebrate”.  

Today, chickens – like all farmed animals – are among the most exploited (and least protected) beings on the planet, finding themselves victimized by multiple facets of the animal industrial complex. 

Chickens are brutalized in myriad ways by the animal research sector, including as:

  • forced inhalers of nerve gas, insecticides, and cigarette smoke (picture “a mechanically restrained rooster with cigarette smoke being pumped into his clamped-open beak);
  • unwilling ingestors of toxic agents and illicit drugs
  • resistant subjects of sex hormone manipulation; and
  • involuntary “models” of human diseases (e.g., cholera, COVID-19, influenza) and drug responses (to, e.g., insulin).
Chickens are among the most exploited (and least protected) beings on the planet, finding themselves victimized by multiple facets of the animal industrial complex — including animal research.

They are also tormented and killed for agricultural research aimed at making their torment and killing more profitable for humans — in addition to undertaking innumerable experiments involving food deprivation and starvation, debeaking, the induction of physical and emotional stress, disease incubation, and slaughter, animal researchers’ torture chickens by, for example:

  • trying to modify their behavior “to reduce their intelligence and behavioral needs–like the need to dustbathe–to enable them to live apathetically in stressful environments”;
  • shaving them “naked with sheep shears in heat-stress studies for the egg industry”; 
  • cutting off their wings and tails (“to show that a grower could save about 15 percent of feed costs by cutting off” body parts deemed “unnecessary to commercial production of poultry meat” – even the primary researcher admitted that it “wasn’t pleasant seeing them spin around on their side trying to get back onto their feet, without their wings’”); 
  • pushing into their uteri “inflated balloons, shell membranes and tampons . . . to determine ‘possible causes of shell-less eggs’” (this made them violently ill and killed most of them within 14-48 hours, leading researchers to advocate for more of this research by asserting that their “reproductive system might serve as a model for studying human toxic shock syndrome”…);
  • pulling out all of their feathers “to measure the[ir] pain reaction”; and
  • forcing them to wear red contact lenses to determine the lenses’ effects on egg production (the lenses caused them severe eye infections and blindness, prevented them from closing their eyes normally, and had them rubbing their eyes repeatedly on their wings).

No matter the type of research for which they are subjugated, these sentient and highly intelligent beings are treated as “nothing but cheap large-scale biosystems” – not protected by any federal laws if bred for research or used in agriculture – because, as it turns out, ignorance (even if willful) begets exploitation, too. 

Not only are chickens “misperceived as lacking most of the psychological characteristics we recognize in other intelligent animals”, but they “are categorized as a commodity, devoid of authenticity as a real animal” – such “perceptions . . . shape their use as commodities which, in turn, then reinforces those original perceptions.”

Animal researchers know better, though, because research itself shows that the attitudes of those who have worked directly with chickens shift to “viewing them as intelligent and emotional animals with individual personalities”. 

Moreover, even though most of the “scientific literature” relating to chicken cognition and behavior is “dominated by applied themes, artificial settings, and methodologies relating to their ‘management’ as a food source”, chickens have shown themselves to be complex, intelligent, emotional, and social beings.

In fact, chickens behave surprisingly like more traditional companion animals when treated as such”

Chickens deserve nothing less than our respect, and justice demands that these sentient beings be freed from farms and labs. 

So, on this day, we join with Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer (who, “for the health of chickens”, became a vegetarian for the last 35 years of his life) in asking “[h]ow can we speak of rights and justice if we take an innocent creature and shed its blood?” 

We at Rise know that we cannot, which is one reason we work everyday toward a peaceful and just world in which all living beings enjoy equal consideration and have rights

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