Ahimsa Today

Kindness and Compassion as a Way of Life

Month: June, 2014

Factory Farmed Broiler Chickens

Chicken breeds are chosen for the characteristics that maximize profits–at the expense of the birds’ welfare. The hens used for egg production are laying hens, and broilers chickens are raised for meat. Laying hens will be slaughtered for pet food or  for processed foods like chicken soup, while broilers are the chickens sold in supermarkets and restaurants in unprocessed form.

The National Chicken Council has a web page where they report that, in every year from 2006 to 2011, the market weight of the birds has gone up, and the mortality rate has gone down. The average weight has doubled since 1940, reaching 5.8 pounds in 2011. Then they quit reporting the numbers. It could be that the mortality trend has reversed, and that that’s why they stopped the annual updates. Perhaps the increasing weight of the birds got to the point where it became too great a detriment to the birds’ health for them to continue to have reductions in mortality. That sounds very plausible to me, but of course it’s pure conjecture. Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to updating the page. I emailed them at their general address, asking that they do so, and they didn’t reply (or update the page). It could be that they get a lot of emails and can’t attend to them all, so I emailed them again, this time to four relevant email addresses, and I included a link to this post. The subject line should have gotten their attention: Blog Post Criticizing Your Statistics. I invited them to post a comment, and got no response.

(I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so let’s set aside questions about the character of people who would defend and promote raising animals genetically doomed to misery in an  environment that doesn’t support their welfare beyond the minimums necessary for profitability, and assume that the numbers reported by the National Chicken Council on their website accurately report the data they collect. But I have to ask, wouldn’t people who make money directly by the means described below (which is to say, factory farmers) be inclined to, shall we say, be less than forthcoming about mortality rates? Is it not a reasonable supposition that the numbers of dead reported are under-counted? And I wonder about the numbers of birds that are sick or injured when they reach the slaughterhouse. Why doesn’t the Chicken Council collect that data and report those numbers?)

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A Lexical Excursion

In school, English was always one of my best subjects. (A tip of the hat to two of my teachers: Tom Clayton at Los Angeles Valley College, and Dr. Jane Walpole at Piedmont Virginia Community College.) I’ve had a longstanding interest in the English language, so it’s only natural that I take up some lexical matters here. (If you share my interest, you’ll enjoy the Lexicon Valley podcasts. I also like onelook.com, where you can look up a word in many dictionaries.) This is a perhaps a logical place to mention that it’s fine with me if you use what I’ve written, even beyond the bounds of fair use, provided you link to this website or credit ahimsatoday.com.

One language note about how I write: Understandably, many people object to using male pronouns universally to deal with the unfortunate lack of gender-neutral pronouns in English. It’s become increasingly common over the years, I’ve noticed, and now quite acceptable in informal spoken English, and increasingly even in informal written English, to use the non-gender-specific plural pronouns they and their for the singular pronouns he/she and his/her to avoid assigning gender or using the awkward “his or her”: Every student must bring their notebook. I’m of the old school, and not quite comfortable with pluralizing singulars, so I avoid this construction. Where gender is unknown or irrelevant, I’m inclined to use either gender randomly—but not switching in the same sentence, and probably not even in the same paragraph. (When I was in her classes many years ago, Dr. Walpole favored the masculine pronouns as the solution to the gender-neutral dilemma, noting that men had to share theirs because they were used when the gender wasn’t specified, but women were able to reserve the feminine pronouns for their exclusive use.) I can usually structure my sentences to avoid the whole problem: All students must bring their notebooks.

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