MORE THAN A MATTER OF TWO FLIES:
WHY KFC IS AN ECOLOGICAL ISSUE
by Dr.Vandana Shiva
On 4th December, the high Court of Dell-d ruled against the Municipal
of India's closure of the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Delhi- KFC had
earlier faced protests at its outlet in Bangalore which had also been closed
on the basis of a municipal notice and later reopened through a Kamataka
@gh Court Stay Order. With the Delhi @gh Court ruling, the Fast Food global
chain owned by Pepsico, has confidently announced that it will open 6 outlets
in Delhi by the year end. It plans to invest $40 n-Lillion in the country
to open a chain of its restaurants over the next seven years.
The debate over KFC has been trivialised into a debate over two flies, since
the KFC outlet was closed by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi on grounds
of hygiene. However, KFC is more than a matter of two flies - it is a matter
of the lives of millions of chickens and millions of farmers and the health
of thousands of consumers. The KFC debate needs to be taking place at these
deeper levels and dimensions of ecology, health and sustainable and
The Environmental and Health Hazards of Factory Farmed Chicken.
After the announcement of the High Court decision a KFC spokesman has desaibed
as a "plus point" the most serious ecologically destructive impact
of fast food chains - the introduction of factory farming of thicken on
a very large scale. As the spokesman stated, the percent of poultry industry
in the unorganised segment to the organised segment and the assurance of
good healthy and disease-free chicken becoming accessible to the non-vegetarian
Indian population (Pioneer, 5.12.95).
The metaphors "organised" and "unorganised" used in
the context of chicken are totally inappropriate, since these metaphors
emerged from the organising capacity of workers and trade unions. Millions
of chickens in chicken batteries do not organise - they merely get deceased.
The more appropriate metaphors for large scale factory farming entailed
by fast food chains like KFC are "concentration camps" vs
Chicken in concentration camps are far from "healthy and disease
The caged environment of the chicken factory with millions of chicken crowded
together is a perfect place for breeding disease.
Since factory farming is inspired by "efficiency" for producers
not by compassion for the animal, the chicken factory is designed in ways
that cause sickness and death for the chicken.
The KFC spokesman has said that,
The poultry industry, in particular, will benefit as new
improved technologically advanced methods for hatching, breeding, processing
and distribution will be used.
However, the technological advancements in factory farming have led to primitive
conditions in terms of our treatment of chicken.
The breeding for chicken in the modem industry is done by about four companies
which are "primary breeders". Their business is to engineer chickens
into highly specialised producers of meat. They sell breeding males and
females to some two hundred "multiplier" companies which produce
the chicks that go to broiler operations or egg factories.
At the multipliers, the breeding birds are kept in open floors in long,
low buildings lf the ddcken are for laying eggs, the male chicks are thrown
away. As an operator, a "chick-puller" who weeds males said, "we
put them in a bag and let them suffocate".
With public awareness growing on the mass destruction of the dispensible
male offspring of chicken bred for egg laying, the industry is moving to
what it calls more "humane" methods. These include killing by
decapitation or by asphyxiation in a carbon dioxide chamber. Many hatcheries
simply grind up the live, newly hatched chicks and their shells into a meal,
which is dehydrated and used as a protein supplement in the feeds of factory
animals. The latest machine of destruction is a type of rapid decompression
diamber in which the chiclks explode and die. The new methods and
machines are for quick and easy mass elimination of what the industry
breeds as "useless" chicks. This might be technological
advancement in terms of the hardware of building concentration
camps and evolving sophisticated extermination techniques. It is not
or advancements in the perspective of humane and compassionate care of farm
As Jim Mason and Peter Singer have stated in their book "Animal
this waste and cruelty is built into the false paradigm of efficiency.
Industrial poultry silence has genetically souped up the
chicken so that it lays ten times the eggs its ancestors did, yet the bird
is otherwise useless to agribusiness.
In the case of broilers, the males are not killed since the ducks have been
bred for meat not egg production. Chicks are debeaked and toe-dipped at
one or two days age because in the environment of the concentration camp
they attack each other with their beaks and toes. When animals are crowded
and annoyed, the likelihood and frequency of aggressive encounters increases.
This leads to what the industry has called "cannibalism". Birds
that have evolved over millions of years socialising in small flocks cannot
establish a pecking order among thousands of identical birds on the floor
of a modem broiler factory. In cages or factory floors, the natural instinct
becomes a major hazard. Cannibalism that develops as a result is controlled
by debeaking. This has led to the technological innovation of the
- a machine that slices off the tips of the birds beaks with a hot blade.
Since debeaking is an assembly floor operation for which time and. labour
cost must be reduced, experts recommend a speed of 15 birds being debeaked
a minute, an operation that leads to new hazards for the chicks.
An excessively hot blade causes blisters in the mouth. A cold
and or dull blade may cause the development of a fleshy, bulb-like growth
on the end of the mandible. Such growths are very sensitive and will cause
below average performance.... Incomplete severance causes tom tissue in
the roof of the mouth. The bird's tongue must be held away from the blade.
Burned or severed tongues result in cull (worthless) hens.
Factory farming creates new diseases and health problems for the chicken.
One common condition is called CLF - or caged layer fatigue. According to
Poultry Digest, birds with CLF withdraw minerals from their bones and muscles
and eventually are unable to stand. These fatigued birds have brittle or
broken bones. Another mysterious disease is the "flip over syndrome".
This condition "is characterised by birds jumping into the air, sometimes
emitting a loud squawk and then falling over d!?ad". Caged production
does not merely cause disease, it actually kills the birds. The
- the percentage of dead and dying birds removed from the cages each day
is between 1 to 1.5 per cent a month. This adds up to a loss of 12 to 18
per cent of the original flock by the end of the first year in cages.
Factory farmed animals are vulnerable to less obvious hazards also. Young
chicks die of thirst because they do not learn to drink from nipple type
watering devices. They can starve to death because of debeaking.
Caged birds often develop foot and leg problems as a result of months of
standing on a wire mesh which is efficient for collection of droppings,
but a totally unsuitable perch for the bird. Broilers also develop leg problems
because of the inhumane breeding to maximise meat production.
A modem broiler reaches its slaughter weight in just 42 days, whidi is twice
and fast as it used to be. Birds legs are unable to support their massive
bodies. The muscle grows fast because of growth promoting drugs, but the
legs do not keep pace with the rest of the body.
Professor Bloom has said that rearing animals so that their bodies are growing
too fast for their legs "is rather like a child who is nine years old
in weight having to stand on the legs of, say, a five year old".
This abnormal growth also creates stress for the cardiovascular system.
Many birds develop congestive heart failure, which causes ascites - a pooling
of body fluids in the abdomen.
The industrialisation of animal agriculture also produces diseases because
the birds are a monoculture, and if one gets infected in the confined
of a factory, all of them are affected.
Even though the modem breeds are bred to be "srecific pathogen free"
(SPF) they have little or no resistance to unexpected diseases. The chicken
has therefore to be chemically dosed with heavy doses of antibiotics and
About half of the thirty n-dllion po unds of antibiotics produced in the
United States are fed to factory animals. All poultry gets antibacterial
additives in their feed. Antibiotics are used to prevent or treat respiratory
disease, coli bacillosis, synovites and other bacterial disease. Factory
farming of thicken is plagued by avian influenza and infectious bronchitis.
Sulfonamides are used against fowl cholera in poultry. Poultry producers
also use arsenical compounds to speed growth and feed efficiency.
According to the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) of the U.S., factory farms use
twenty to thirty thousand drugs to control diseases and boost productivity.
T'he General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed the US DA efforts to protect
consumers from the illegal and potentially harmful residues of animal drugs,
pesticides and environmental contaminants in meat and poultry. The US DA
claimed that only 2 per cent contained illegal residues. GAO on the other
hand found 14% samples to have illegally high levels of drugs and pesticides.
GAO noted that
of the 143 drugs and pesticides GAO identified as likely to
leave residues in raw meat and poultry, 42 are known to cause or are suspected
of causing cancer; 20 of causing birth defects; and 6 of causing mutations.
Increasingly, human health problems are being linked to the hazards of factory
farn-dng since it is profits, not ihe health of animal and humans that guides
factory farm operations. As a veterinarian has pointed out.
What happens to the 15 million pounds of animal tissues which
are too severely affected with cancer to be used? They are processed into
hog and thicken feed. The result is a recyling of potential cancer substances
repeatedly through the human and animal food chain.
Just as in the U.S. the Department of Agriculture has lied to the consumer
about the health hazards of industrially produced meat, the Government of
India is sacrificing the health of the public by deciding to revise the
level of monosodium glutamate (MSG) allowed in food from one per cent to
three per cent since with the higher standards of food safetv KFC would
have faced problems.
Even while it is under the cover of "free choice" of consumers
that fast food chains and factory farming are spreading in India, the dioice
of the consumer is anything but free. It is not free because the glib
of KFC hides the cruelty to animals and health hazards to consumers inherent
to the industrial production of chicken. It is not free because the collusion
between government agencies and corporations protects the corporate interest
while leaving animals and citizens vtdnerable to disease and health hazards.
It is not free because consumers in the west are stopping the consumption
of factory farmed chicken as the awareness and information on the violence
intrinsic to it becomes more widespread and public.
The KFC spokesman is therefore n-dsleading the Indian public in stating
that the factory farmed chicken that IOC wifl promote will be healthy and
disease free. At a time when the western consumers are rejecting industrially
produced meat and moving to vegetarianism or eating meat from free-range
animals, corporations like KFC are "dumping" a hazardous industry
on the Indian consumer, and with their aggressive advertising and public
relations, pushing the Indian consumer from the healthy basis of vegetarianism
or free range chicken to the pathogen and antibiotic loaded factory chicken.
What the KFC spokesman has negatively referred to as the "unorganised"
sector of the poultry industry that must be made extinct is the healthy
and ecologically sound economy of free range chicken that is being chosen
by the informed and ,the aware consumers of the west in preference to the
factory famiing economy of monocultures, cruelty and displacement of small
Factory farming and fast foods symbolise a culture and economics of slavery.
Chickens are produced under conditions of torture and imprisiorunent. The
small producer supplying healthy chicken in a decentralised way without
burdening the environment is enslaved in poverty and dispossession. Even
the elite consumers are enslaved by an inferiority complex that allows them
to give up ecological and healthy pattems of consumption for environmentally
destructive and unhealthy life styles.
The free range economy of chicken production which KFC and factory farming
are @g to destroy is the real economy of freedom - for the chicken, for
producers and for consumers.
The chicken not imprisoned in the concentration camps of factory farming
are free to feed themselves in free range conditions, they are free of disease
and they are free of being exterminated on the basis of the diversity of
breeds or sex. Producers are free of the costly inputs, drugs and chemicals
that factory farming requires - thus small producers have the freedom to
survive. Consumers are free of the health hazards of factory fam-dng and
fast foods. They are also free of the cultural inferiority they are being
subjected to by KFC propaganda whidi is leading them to give up the ecological
and healthy food systems available to us in India for the environmentally
and nutritionally unsound systems of industrial farming and processing.
The chains of an inferiority complex on the part of elite consumers who
rush for multinational products without discrimination or awareness makes
them complicit in denying freedom to animals and to poor suppliers of
thicken whose livelihoods are snatched by the giant hatcheries and factories.
The KFC debate is about these deeper dimensions of freedom for animals and
humans. It is not a trivial discourse about two flies.