By Allison Hurwitz
It�s no shocker that animals have to die for the sake of big, juicy fast food sandwiches. But what if the chickens that made up that patty were scalded alive in boiling water or had their throats slit while still conscious. Still hungry?
This month marks the fourth anniversary of Norfolk-based, internationally relevant People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals� campaign against fast-food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken. The animal rights group continues to spread public awareness of inhumane factory farm practices while putting pressure on the corporation to amend its regulation standards.
According to PETA�s Factory Farming Campaign manager, Matt Prescott, virtually all fast food corporations buy their chickens from large producers who keep the animals under terrible conditions. PETA has targeted KFC in particular for what it sees as the restaurant�s blatant disregard of recommendations to improve the situation, its denial of wrongdoing and its lying and manipulating to and of the public.
The treatment of poultry on American farms is a tricky issue on multiple levels. For starters, chickens and turkeys�animals that Prescott says account for 98 percent of the meat consumed in the United States�are not protected by any regulated standards. Defying logic, the United States Department of Agriculture chooses not to include them in the Humane Slaughter Act, which covers other animals raised for food such as beef cattle and pigs.
It�s important to note that the Slaughter Act was written almost 50 years ago in 1958 and not a single facility has been penalized by the USDA for violating its standards. Even when farms have been caught utilizing disturbing practices, the Department of Agriculture has chosen not to sanction. Port Folio Weekly would like to know why and we plan to investigate this.
Without regulation, poultry producers do not have an obligation (excepting, of course, a moral one) to employ humane procedures. Restaurants like KFC contract with large factory farms such as Tyson to secure the chickens that they will batter with 21 herbs and spices, dunk in oil and present on nice plastic trays in their stores.
At these farms, birds are subjected to cruel atrocities including being boiled alive, having their legs crushed and beaks seared off un-anaesthetized, getting their throats slit while fully conscious and the injection of extreme antibiotics (administered so as to allow them to survive in beyond filthy conditions) that cause them to be so massively top-heavy that they collapse under their own weight.
So why doesn�t PETA go directly to the source and target the poultry producers with their campaign? Without USDA policing, these companies have no incentive to change, says Prescott. But a company like KFC � the largest purchaser of chickens in the world � has the power to influence their suppliers. Prescott asserts that when buyers talk, companies like Tyson listen.
PETA would like to see the slaughtering of birds changed. The current system allows for too much error. (A factory farm worker told Prescott that workers expect, on average, for 40 birds to be inadvertently boiled alive on any given day). PETA recommends a process of controlled-atmosphere killing, where chicken enter a chamber that gradually replaces oxygen with gasses.
It�s not a matter of money that has stalled movement: KFC executives have admitted that PETA�s recommended changes would only cost the company $.02 per meal. For years, PETA experts attempted to work cordially with Kentucky Fried Chicken executives to make changes. In 2001, the restaurant even formed an advisory board to evaluate practices. According to PETA�s website, this council rarely met; its recommendation went unheard; and members resigned over the fast food company�s lack of concern.
Prescott says only when it became apparent KFC was not willing to make any progress did they decide to take the campaign public.
"Protesting and boycotting are the last resort," he says. "We try to work cooperatively and explain the reasoning, but when they prove callous and stubborn and won�t listen, we have no choice."
In January 2003, PETA had reached its limit and began handing out educational materials and approaching KFC patrons nationwide with the truth about the food�s origin. Prescott estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of waiting customers PETA approaches decide to leave the restaurant.
There are three KFC locations in the Norfolk-Portsmouth area, an amount that seems suspiciously small relative to the chain�s presence in other cities. Prescott says he can�t be sure but hopes this has something to do with the PETA campaign. Of the local restaurants, the Five Points KFC is a main target of the animal welfare group: For the past year and a half, between two and four volunteers have picketed there every single day.
The PETA campaigners have no plans to throw up the white flags anytime soon. They will continue to fight until the practices change � either from an increase of federal regulations (an issue they are also addressing) or from internal motivation.
Prescott encourages locals who want to be involved with the campaign to stop by the offices at 501 Front St., log on to www.peta.org or call 622-PETA. Of course another effective route could be to simply kiss the Colonel goodbye until he cleans up his act in the coops.