The real chamber of horrors

At least 65% of all chickens sold in the UK are contaminated with campylobacter, the most common cause of food poisoning in Britain. This hasn’t generated any media interest or public hysteria. (In fact, when I was interviewed on Radio Oxford about the horsemeat scandal I was specifically asked not to mention campylobacter.) Despite all the horsemeat ‘jokes’ nobody finds it very funny if a member of their family becomes seriously ill or dies as a result of eating infected meat. Listening to a two-part report on the BBC World Service (‘What if Chicken Conquers the World?’) I can only conclude that the
individuals interviewed are all totally insane. People involved at all levels of the global chicken business (which now slaughters a staggering 50 billion chickens per year) made their deranged contributions. Evidence of this collective madness was highlighted by the obsession with productivity
and efficiency. Under natural conditions it will take 3 months for a chick to become a fully grown adult. This has now been reduced to 5 weeks, and the ‘progress’ to ensure that this will continue to be shortened won’t stop. At what point will any of these lunatics realise that what they are doing is
unnatural, dangerous, immoral, and totally unnecessary? One proud scientist declared that the time span from chick to adult would be reduced by “half a day per year for the foreseeable future”. FCR (Food Conversion Ratio) and FCE (Food Conversion Efficiency) are obviously the same thing. 70% of the
overall cost of producing chicken meat is the feed. So that FCR is never going to be good enough, but the feed isn’t the only cost in the chicken business. Energy is involved in heating (or cooling) factory farms, plus all the other production costs of transport and packaging, etc. One of the
so-called innovations for factory farming in hot climates is the genetically modified featherless chicken. Apart from reduced air conditioning, it also removes the bother and expense of removing all those feathers after slaughter. Unsurprisingly, the issue of campylobacter wasn’t mentioned in
‘What if Chicken Conquers the World?’ If nobody is really aware of it then just ignore it, and if anyone asks an awkward question you dismiss it. In fact, all the people involved in the global chicken business claimed that food safety is a major priority.

Incidentally, the first production line slaughterhouse was opened in Chicago in 1867. This dubious landmark in human civilisation was the catalyst for the twin obsessions of production and efficiency in the meat industry. And when Henry Ford (1863-1947) witnessed this “disassembly operation” he
introduced the assembly line technique for the mass production of cheap cars. Obviously, the industrial slaughter of animals has been disastrous for chickens, cows and pigs, etc. However, it hasn’t been great for humans either. It soon became obvious that assembly line workers (in abattoirs and car factories) experienced “dehumanisation”, and the Nazis infamously adapted the method for the mass murder of people in the concentration camps. And the gas chambers were very efficient, but nobody regards this dark era as one of the highlights of human ingenuity. It is frequently stated that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, but the real figure is unknown. Also, millions from other ethnic groups were murdered. It is claimed that as many as 17 million perished in Hitler’s death camps, but humans systematically kill over 60 billion animals (not including fish) ever year. The monumental failure to understand that all of these issues are interconnected is a
gigantic stain on the collective human consciousness.

Paul Freestone

Links to the two parts of ‘What if Chicken Conquers the World?’:


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