A Chicken Farm Is Not Auschwitz


Serbian soldiers are killing women and children in Bosnia, people are starving in Sudan and innocent civilians are being blown up in London and Northern Ireland. Yet we have Marylanders who are really worked up over the wretched lives of chickens.

Last weekend, three dozen men and women representing United Poultry Concerns Inc. held an orderly vigil outside Country Fair Farms on Bachman Valley Road, demonstrating against factory farming nationally, in which "over 230 million young hens spend miserable lives laying eggs crammed inside battery cages."

They carried placards with gruesome pictures of deformed and featherless hens, hens crammed into cages and hens losing their beaks in debeaking machines.

"Death Camp" was the slogan under one picture, "Misery is not a Health Food" read another.

After the vigil, they paraded through Westminster, handing out brochures and samples of eggless baked goods.

For the most part, Westminster ignored the protesters. Most people on the street were busy enjoying the bright sunshine and going about their chores, but they graciously accepted United Poultry's literature. None of the town's residents seemed

interested in engaging in any extended discussion with the protesters.

About the only open instance of hostility I saw was when a group of bicyclists rode down Pennsylvania Avenue and one yelled out, "Get a job!"

This was United Poultry's third annual protest. In previous years, they made a pilgrimage to Maryland's Eastern Shore, where hundreds of thousands of chickens are slaughtered daily.

This year, they targeted egg-producing farms, and Country Fair Farms was singled out. The 500,000 chickens inside the large sheds at Country Fair Farms are laying hens, whose purpose is to produce as many as 250 eggs a year each before they are slaughtered and made into chicken pot pies.

According to United Poultry Concerns, these chickens are exploited.

Admittedly, hundreds of thousands of chickens crammed into large sheds piled high with manure is not a pretty sight. Neither is the sight of debeaked chickens who live in crowded cages and whose feet never touch the ground.

But these are chickens, not human beings.

Chickens have been domesticated for tens of thousands of years, according to archaeological records. Although it is believed that the first chickens appeared in Southeast Asia, their progeny quickly spread all over the world. It is hard to think of a cuisine in the world that doesn't have a least a hundred different recipes for chicken.

With so many animal rights groups having appeared on the scene, maybe we shouldn't be so surprised that a group has arisen to protect chickens. Some groups work on behalf of endangered species such as mountain gorillas and dolphins that humans are needlessly killing. But other animal-rights groups want to stop human beings from using rats for medical research or eating animals that man has been feeding on since he began to walk upright eons ago.

The common thread in the arguments of these groups is that man is evil because he is at the top of the animal food chain. They also attribute an inappropriate innocence to animals.

The explicit message of these protesters is that a chicken's life is as valuable as a human's. One of the more offensive features of the protest was to compare factory farming to Hitler's death camps.

Such a comparison trivializes what happened to millions of people in the Holocaust. The real tragedy of the concentration camps was that people were treated as if they were chickens. United Poultry really misses the mark when it invokes the term "death camps" to describe Country Fair's large chicken sheds.

The group is relentless in making this comparison between chickens and humans, and you have to admire their ingenuity and skill in elevating obscure references in literature into supposed statements of universal truths.

In one of its brochures, United Poultry quotes from Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple:" "I can never not know that the chicken I absolutely saw is a sister, and that her love of her children definitely resembles my love of mine."

That metaphor has been stretched to its limits. Maybe a mother hen herding her chicks can resemble a human mother, and maybe a mother cooing over her child sounds similar to the clucking of a contented hen, but those maternal expressions are close to universal among the higher levels of the animal kingdom.

At some point during the protest, I expected Mel Brooks or Allen Funt to pop out and say the entire protest was a spoof on the crazy kinds of causes that people are taking up. But these people were deadly earnest in their beliefs. If you joked about chickens with this crowd, you couldn't raise a smile, let alone a laugh.

How much respect should a human give a chicken? Humans shouldn't gratuitously hurt them, but having a high regard for chickens seems to be misplaced. Compassion is also misplaced.

If all the chickens in the Country Fair Farms were released tomorrow, the foxes, raccoons, hawks and cats would feast on a bountiful banquet. Is that better than humans eating them?

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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