It’s no laughing matter
PETA ‘chicken’ rolls out a familiar premise to make a point
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because she wanted to reduce the amount of suffering in the world.
OK, that’s not exactly ha-ha funny. But then neither is the slaughter of nearly 850 million chickens every year, the number killed to supply KFC world wide, said Kelsey Gibb, the aforementioned chicken.
Gibb is from Moscow, Idaho. Between 11 and noon last Friday (June 30), she sat in a wheelchair in front of the KFC franchise at the Chico Mall wearing a white chicken costume. She held a sign on her lap that read “Broken Wings & Legs.” Occasionally another protester, Sarah Downs, of Chico, would push her across the adjacent mall entrance and back. They originally planned to cross busy East 20th Street but decided Gibb could have ended up as roadkill there.
Gibb and Downs are affiliated with PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. With that organization’s usual flair for attention-grabbing, they were protesting KFC because of what they call its “torture” of chickens. KFC, they insisted, really stands for “Kentucky Fried Cruelty.”
They were joined by three other young women. Two of them held signs, while the third wore a “body screen,” a television monitor strapped to her body. When people pulled up to the stop sign as they were leaving the mall, she offered to play her video for them. Not many wanted to watch an undercover film of chickens being tortured, however, even one narrated by former Baywatch hottie Pamela Anderson.
The protesters weren’t put off by this rejection. Many passersby honked, and the women took each blast of the horn as a sign of approbation. “Thank you,” they shouted, waving gaily.
“We get an overwhelmingly positive response,” said Lindsay Rajt, the coordinator of the chicken-crossing-the-road campaign. Rajt looks to be in her late 20s and is from Norfolk, Va., where PETA’s headquarters is located. She’s well tanned from standing on sidewalks—Chico was city No. 16 on a 17-city tour of California—and even, on occasion, donning a yellow bikini and carrying a sign reading “KFC Tortures Chicks,” though she didn’t do that in Chico.
“When you tell the average person that KFC is scalding birds alive, they get absolutely horrified and take their business elsewhere,” she said.
The video being shown on the body screen, she explained, was taken at a chicken growing plant in Morefield, W.Va., that had been honored as KFC’s “supplier of the year.” Some of its images, which are pretty horrific, have been shown on the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes—shots of workers stomping on live animals and tearing their heads off, for example.
“You have to ask yourself,” Rajt said, “ ‘If this is the best KFC has to offer, what does their worst look like?’ “
PETA, which has been pressuring KFC for years to improve its suppliers’ treatment of chickens, says it isn’t trying to put the company out of business or stop people from eating chicken, though it supports vegetarianism as a kinder lifestyle. What it wants is for KFC to stop such abusive practices as scalding chickens alive, slitting their throats while they’re still conscious, feeding them growth hormones that make them so top-heavy they become crippled, cramming them into cages and debeaking them.
It was hard to tell whether the protest was having an impact on the Chico KFC outlet. At 11:30 that day, there were three customers in the shop. The store manager, who identified herself as Betty, was reluctant to discuss the protest, saying she needed to talk with a supervisor. Phone messages left for the supervisor weren’t returned.
KFC does address the issue of animal welfare extensively on its Web site, however, saying it is “committed to the humane treatment of animals” and has formed the KFC Animal Welfare Advisory Council to help it formulate its animal-welfare program.
KFC does not raise its own chickens. It buys them, slaughtered and dressed, from 16 different suppliers that operate 52 facilities around the country. KFC says its policy is that “animals should be free from mistreatment at all possible times….” It has developed “Animal Welfare Guiding Principles” for the treatment of chickens by its suppliers and has “implemented a system of unannounced audits to monitor compliance.”
The guidelines state that “every reasonable precaution should be taken to minimize injury to birds and that “enough space be provided to allow all birds to lie down.” Birds kept in storage sheds “should be provided adequate vent and climate control such as fans or curtains.” Suppliers must be sure their stunning equipment works properly and that birds are slaughtered before they regain consciousness.
Suppliers are also told not to use hormones or steroids to promote growth, and beak trimming is not allowed.
PETA scoffs at these measures as so much window dressing. “More than two years after KFC first made [the] promise to take animal welfare seriously, they admitted to us that they have never been inside a KFC supplier farm and only visit their slaughter plants once per year during pre-announced audits,” the group states in a press release.
Regarding the KFC advisory council, PETA notes that in March 2005 the council “put together recommendations that they thought would satisfy both PETA and KFC. Again, KFC refused to require a thing of its suppliers. Subsequently, five members of the Council have resigned.”
Adele Douglass, a former member, told the Chicago Tribune, “[KFC] never had any meetings. They never asked any advice, and then they touted to the press that they had this animal-welfare committee. I felt like I was being used.”
And Dr. Ian Duncan, another former member described as North America’s leading scientific expert on bird welfare, said that “progress was extremely slow, which is why I resigned. … I suspect upper management didn’t really think that animal welfare was important.”