<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Rescued chickens, their care, and the direction we are heading 

Well, as I believe I mentioned before, we now have two more rescues. They probably fell from a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. Luckily for them, though, we found them, and they are in pretty good shape and getting better all the time. They still haven't told us their names yet, so if any of you have an inspiration, feel free to share. Generally we wait for any animal that comes to us to reveal their own name in their own time, which they inevitably will when they are ready.

We have been watching them with great joy from the first day just learning to be chickens. When we first put them in the large "infirmary" cage we have used before for others like them (though we very much wish we had a yard and house instead if a cage for this and do intend to one day soon) to keep them in isolation from the rest of the flock until we could be sure they were healthy and would not get everyone else sick, they were uncertain what to do about this new situation. As we didn't happen to have a fresh batch of straw, we had hastily filled the cage with a bunch of dry leaves and pine straw for bedding. It was quite funny to watch them stretch their feet slowly out, carefully putting them down on this new surface, checking it all out. It was heartwarming, too, to know that they were now going to begin their lives as real chickens and not "product" at Tyson. They started learning to preen themselves and each other as well. At first they were afraid of us when we opened the door to give them food, flapping wildly and jumping around, just generally trying to get away from us. But now, they calmly watch us and even allow us to touch them. Laura even moved one of them out of the way by pushing him gently on the breast a few inches over so that she could reach the feeder today to refill it. Yet he showed no sign of being upset or afraid and didn't try to peck or anything like that. (Yes, at least one of them appears to be a rooster, as he is now crowing.) We enjoy watching them each day learn more and more how to be the chickens they deserve to be. When we watch them engage in these natural behaviors that are so denied them in those commercial houses, it just makes us so mad and even more determined to fight that terrible injustice done to these wonderful birds.

They were also quite enthusiastic about the new food they were getting - no doubt the best quality they had ever had in their lives. We are feeding them a mix of commercial feed called AllWay, with some bran, cracked corn, and black sunflower seeds, supplemented with cabbage, lettuce, and whatever vegetable and fruit scraps we may have from day to day. At first, we went slow with this variety, so as to not upset their digestive systems that were so used to the poor and unvaried food they had been fed their entire lives. Gradually we increased the variety as they got more and more used to it.

I have to mention something here that I think is quite important. Lately, my Battery Hens. After checking them out, I went ahead and joined, and we have had some interesting conversations there. That was where I got my last post, if you remember. But, after that, in the members' zeal for sharing other chicken stories, I was given a link in a post to one story that profoundly disturbed me.

As reported in the post:

"This girl was a 'broiler', a Cornish-X Cross, and also a very beloved pet. Unfortunately, she was also genetically bred to become the chicken equivalent of a 300-lb. 5-yr-old.She was purchased as a very young chick. As soon as her owner realized what was happening, she put Eggnus on a restricted diet,and went to all manner of trouble to try to slow her growth and keep her healthy. But genes rule, and Eggnus died, probably of heart or other organ failure, before she reached a year of age, as is common for this breed."

This was quite disturbing to read. I know that the person doing this had the best of intentions, and I have heard the same theory repeated many times, but almost always the same disastrous results happen if this advice is followed. Here is why:

Although she is absolutely correct that the genetic alterations the industry has inflicted upon these chickens has been severe and disastrous for their health and well-being, and although she did what she thought was best, following advice that sounded like it came from an industry journal, it is not the best way to rehabilitate these birds. Trying to restrict their abnormal growth rate through a restriction of diet is the absolute worst thing that a person can do. Now, you wouldn't want to feed them things that were very fattening, however, you must keep in mind that their bodies are growing much faster than their organs can keep up with. And they will pretty much grow this quickly no matter how much you do or don't feed them. Therefore, the best thing you can do is to try to help their organs develop fast enough to keep up with the growth of their bodies. What we have done is to feed them enough to fill their bellies of the right foods, giving them no more than they need at one time, but doing it several times a day. Basically, we have fed them in the same way that a person eats. Enough to not feel hungry, but not so much as to have them eat too much at one time. They need lots of whole grains and greens. We also give them calcium in the form of parched egg shells. They love these. Parching them in the oven for about 5-10 minutes at 350-375 will kill any bacteria that may be harbored in the shells. Most shelters boil the eggs whole and feed them back to the chickens.

There is a great description of how one of our favorite sanctuaries, Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center, feeds their chickens, found here:

The chickens at our sanctuary are outside from dawn to dusk, spending much of their time foraging for greens and insects. (Yes, they eat worms like many other birds.) Whenever one of their foraging areas is depleted, we reseed it with clover, alfalfa, wheat grass, or rye grass. We also supply a natural diet of grains and seeds, supplemented by whatever fruits and vegetables are cheap and in season. We hope, over time, to grow more of their food ourselves, to cut down on costs.Chickens especially love sunflower seeds, leafy greens, and strawberries, all of which are good for them. Chickens also love cracked corn, because it is sweet, but cannot be given too much of it because it is low in nutritional value compared to the other elements of their diet. Chickens go crazy for spaghetti, with or without sauce, and never get enough hard boiled eggs.We take a pro-active approach to health at the sanctuary and therefore supplement the chickens' food with vitamins and herbs. We use a water soluble vitamin and mineral supplement once per week and at times of stress, such as changes in housing or particularly hot or cold weather. We mix kelp or healthful herbs into the feed whenever we can afford to and also use herbs to relieve symptoms when a bird is sick.

United Poultry Concerns also has a great page on care of chickens here:

Birds should have fresh clean accessible water at all times, and fresh food. Food and water bowls should be cleaned (not just refilled) every day and refilled. Birds NEED GREENS: greenleaf lettuce is especially favored! Any dark green leafy. Chickens like (and need) greens, tomatoes, grains and seeds. They also like treats like cooked spaghetti. They also like to peck at whole green cabbages. They also love ripe melons and bananas and grapes.

At both of these sites, there is also information as to how to care for sick or injured chickens, and if you have a problem, just write them and they will be happy to answer your questions.
Bottom line here is that since you can't undo the damage done by genetic tampering, all a rescuer can do is to try to help the birds keep up with the tremendous growth weight. Do not restrict their diet to try to slow their growth rate. This is impossible and will kill them.
Although we do use some commercial feed because of not having enough funding, we do our best to limit the amount we use by supplementing it with as much of the other, healthier options that we can. And, as much as we wish we could let these birds roam free during the day and forage for themselves, which is definitely the best thing for them, again, financially we have been unable to build big enough facilities and fenced yards to protect them from predators, including our cats and dogs. We hope to one day be able to build better and bigger facilities, especially for the rescues and sick birds, so that we do not have to confine them in a cage temporarily until they can be put into the rest of the flock or given a yard and house to themselves. We re hoping to be able to do just that very soon, as it is high on our list of priorities, as it seems like we will continue to receive these rescued birds, especially since one of the local shelters now have our names as willing to take in chickens and other animals, at least temporarily, since all the shelters take in are cats and dogs. It is looking more and more like we will eventually become a sanctuary, so we desperately need to get these facilities ready for the inevitable flow of rescues that continue to come our way.

On this note, I would like to let you all know of the change in donation policy. As Laura and I are in a somewhat better financial situation than before, all donations received will now go to our efforts to rescue and educate the public. There will be no more using the donated funds to pay our bills, unless there is some type of emergency that requires us to use some to pay the phone bill to keep our internet connection alive, though this is highly unlikely. We have finally gotten Laura into a program that pays most of her doctor bills and covers the majority of her medicines, and I have been able to get more work than before from fellow animal lovers around here that support what we are doing.

Our current priorities are now building new and better facilities for the chickens and gathering enough funding to get us to the AR2005 conference, where I have been invited (and accepted) to speak. All donations will be kept separate from our own money in a separate account and accounted for down to every penny. We will be happy to provide that information at any time to anyone who asks how much has been received and how it is spent. We have also stepped up efforts to get our formal designation as a charity, so that will help, too. We have set a goal of raising $1000 for the trip to Los Angeles in July for the AR2005 conference, and any funds that may be left over from that will be spent on the birds here and/or towards creating leaflets, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and other promotional material, as I have been recently asked for those materials on several occasions from a variety of organizations and individuals. In fact, we intend to keep a running total of funding raised for the trip on the blog here so that everyone can see for themselves how the fund-raising is going and how much closer we are to meeting our goal.

For those wanting to donate, there is the PayPal button on the site, or you can send them direct to me at General Delivery, Pine Ridge, AR, 71966. Together we can make this happen and make some much needed changes in the lives of many animals, especially the poor chickens.
I would like to share with you one more thing before I close this post out. Another link provided to me lately is this one. The stories on this page (as on many others) show how intelligent and individual chickens really are. I dream of the day that the public views them as the interesting and wonderful intelligent feeling birds they truly are and not simply as a meal.

I, for one, plan to devote my life to doing just that as does Laura and many others that we work with on a daily basis.

Again, I am not alone, as I continue to discover every day.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Reader's Story and info with my clarifying comments 

Recently the AAFF group at Yahoo got a new member that originally came from another group I had not heard about called Battery Hens, where, to my surprise, I had been discussed in several posts, along with those horrible pictures I posted on our photo page back on 9/25/04 of the poor chicken we had rescued off the road that had her head bashed in that had to be euthanized. Of course, out of curiosity, I went to that group to see what was being said and joined up myself.

Well, after a little bit of back and forth, one of the members there, Cindy, told her personal story of her brush with the poultry industry and graciously allowed me to use her story and her name. Even though this didn't come to me in a personal email and had already even posted publicly, I still felt like I should ask her permission before sharing this on my site, as I do with everything someone writes to me, and especially if that is done through personal emails, as you all know. Here is what she had to say (her first post on this is found here):

**Note: For clarification purposes, I have made notations throughout this post that will be bracketed and otherwise obviously noted in this bold text color so that you do not get confused as to what are their words and what are mine.**

I got my first taste of the poultry industry when I moved to rural Maine in the early 1970s, to a town where poultry was the primary industry. Later I had friends who worked in the plants (I never did, but would go in briefly to speak to friends, and so at least SAW the environment, which was people standing on wet, bloody concrete, suffering repeated hand injuries that later became infected and eventually ruined their hands, while mostly dead chickens, straight from scalding and de-feathering, had their heads slowly PULLED off by a fork as the line passed [This machine is called a head-puller and is now (in most plants) part of back dock.], and where there was a 50 gallon bucket stenciled with drippy letters 'CONDEMNED', where the chicken parts too cancerous or otherwise hideous to consume were thrown). [These condemned parts are used for animal feed. At the end of a shift a floor person weighs these barrels, and this weight is subtracted from what the grower is paid, even though it is still used for feed and the company still makes money from it.] But in the early days all I knew about it was the trucks hurtling by, spewing feathers, and the gossip (true, it turns out) that in winter the unprotected chickens in the outside cages froze and their bodies insulated the inner ones, and the fact that periodically we would see a white chicken running through the underbrush, or lying in the road. Our small flock was begun when my brother and I began catching and bringing home the unfortunate survivors, and one of my earliest was Chickadee, a little pullet [commonly referred to by the industry as "broilers"] nearly frozen to death, who lived, sans one eye and all her toes, but who became a loving pet. My father, who had worked as a commercial artist in NYC all his adult life before moving to Maine, tried to find work gathering the chickens from the barns, but lasted maybe two weeks. The practices he described suggest underpaid and ignorant workers taking their frustrations out on the birds. [These are the same people I refer to as "catchers.]

Her next post follows up with the rest of this information:

Virgil, you are more than welcome to use my words for any purpose you think might help, and please use my name as well. Unfortunately, I don't know much more than what I wrote, as I never actually worked in the plants. Everything I saw took place between 1971 and 1978, when I graduated HS and moved to NYC for some years - the plants in question were the Maplewood and Penobscot poultry processing plants in Belfast, Maine. Shortly after I left the area, the bottom dropped out of the poultry industry in midcoastal Maine, and both plants closed. Many people I graduated with took out large loans to buy poultry barns, which were then rendered useless. The barns were enormous, with very tiny windows that provided some ventilation but let in almost no light, so some tried to grow mushrooms in them once the poultry industry went south (literally, to where heating costs were lower), but basically they were worthless without 45,000 chicks to stuff into them.I do remember as we were building up a small home flock of chickens (as pets and for eggs, founded by rescued birds who had fallen off trucks), acquiring a few dark-colored chicks. These would supposedly cause a stampede and mass suffocation in the overcrowded conditions of a poultry barn (full of yellow chicks), so they were routinely fed (alive, I believe) to pigs. I also remember years later being back in the area, going to a jobs services office looking for employment. As I waited, I sat beside an older woman with claw-like crippled hands. [The claw-like condition she describes is so common that we had a name for it. We called it "hangers hand." For some it is permanent. For others it is only temporary. Either way, almost every hanger has it to some extent, especially if they do it for very long.] We got chatting, and she told me that she had worked for many years for one of the plants, and like many, repeated infections that she was forced to work through had destroyed her hands. She told me that a large group of plant workers had organized a lawsuit against the former plant owners for crippling them, but I don't know what came of it or how far it got. Interesting that as I think about it I do remember some things, just from living in the area... I remember visiting a friend at I think Penobscot, and her job was termed 'venter'. [Actually a "venter" is the 2nd person to handle the birds in evisceration line. The transfer hanger is the first. The "vent" is the anus. The position at our plant was called the "button holer." The reason for pulling the gut out was to expose the gall bladder so the "fat breaker" could pull each side of the "vent" open for the inspection by the USDA without bursting the gall bladder since bursting it causes gall fluid to squirt out. This fluid both ruins the meat and is dangerous. If it gets in a person's eyes, it is very painful and can cause an infection which requires immediate first-aid. If left untreated, it can cause blindness, usually temporary, but in the very worst cases can be permanent. I was warned abut this by Deborah Shands, RN, who was once the plant nurse where I worked.] She was the first person to handle the bird after it was scalded, feathered, and had its head slowly pulled off by the method I mentioned earlier. As I recall it, her job was to take every second bird (hanging by the feet, of course), stab a knife into its vent, pull out a loop of intestine and cut it loose on one side, leaving about 8 inches of gut dangling. I can't recall what the point of this was, but I do remember further up the line the people with dangling vacuums, [also known as a "lung gun"] sucking all the innards out of the opened cavities of the birds... right next to that ol' CONDEMNED bucket...I remember it seeming like a form of hell, and vowing I would never work there. I did nonetheless take a job as a 'clam-shucker' at one time, and lasted one interminable day. The clams, lightly scalded, squirmed when you opened them to rip them from their shells. As you and Lily have pointed out, treating living things as 'product' seems to me the primary problem here (I have used the analogy of a car assembly plant before myself). If things are alive, and you treat them so, and take their life quickly with the full knowledge that you are taking a life, this seems very different to me from factory-farming-hell.I am much more comfortable eating local venison than beef - I know the deer lived a normal life, and then died suddenly. This is very different from eating an animal that was tortured from birth to premature, miserable death, and never allowed to really be alive, in my mind. I am in full respect for veganism, but I also would like to be able to eat meat (and eggs, and milk products, which I love) without knowing that I am contributing to systematic torture. I'll pay whatever they ask, if they can reassure me that the animals are treated like... well, like animals (as we humans are), rather than like 'product'. Brooks (pop. 900 or so) is actually the town I lived in, tho everyone commuted to Belfast.

Of course, it is obvious by her words, that she realizes that even dairy and eggs contribute to severe animal cruelty, unfortunately. These are living, feeling animals, not the "product" ("pre-processed product" and "post-processed product" - never chickens or birds) that Tyson refers to them as in order to help workers (and probably themselves) with the desensitization necessary to treat animal this way. If only more people saw that...

She then led me to a couple of links to another woman's story, another poultry worker from the same area that she thought I would be interested in. As it had already been publicized, I felt that there was no need to gain permission to simply call attention to and educate you on what was already there for anyone to see. I have provided the links to this at the bottom of this story for those that would like to see the parts I edited out, which were really only the interviewer's comments, notes, and footnotes, and didn't pertain to the facts of the story for our purposes.

Hopefully, the inclusion of both of these sad stories will help you and others to realize how widespread the problems are in this industry and help dispel the industry-promoted myth that these situations are isolated. As readers of this blog are aware, or at least beginning to recognize, these situations are the norm and are quite widespread. Fear and fear alone is what keeps these workers quiet.

On February 24, 1988, Penobscot Poultry--Maine's last broiler processing plant--closed its doors, bringing an end to a once productive and nationally competitive agribusiness. Located in the coastal community of Belfast (pop. 6,200), Penobscot Poultry for many years was the single largest employer in Waldo County, and its demise left nearly 1,000 people without jobs. Already suffering from high unemployment, Belfast had little to offer by way of alternate jobs for these workers.
Penobscot's demise is not an isolated incident but part of a larger trend of industrial decline affecting all regions of the country. Most often explored in economic terms, deindustrialization is rarely considered in terms of the human, social costs. Our project examines this important social and economic phenomenon on the local and individual level, focusing on the closing of Penobscot and its effect on one worker, Linda Lord.
A twenty-year veteran of the plant, Linda Lord had spent fifteen of those years working in "the blood tunnel," [In this instance the "blood tunnel" is the killing room, with Linda being what I have referred to as a "killer.] where she hand-slaughtered the chickens missed by the automatic neck-cutting device--a job held by few women. In a work-related accident she lost the sight of her right eye and fought hard for a settlement. In 1984, she joined a strike for higher wages and better benefits. She was 38 when the plant closed. Single and self-supporting, her goal was to remain and find work in the Belfast area, to be near her family and tend to her elderly parents.
The following interview was conducted by Stephen Cole (SC) and Cedric Chatterley (CC) with Linda Lord (LL) at Callagher's Restaurant, in Brooks, Maine, in March 1988, not long after the plant closed. The excerpts have been edited lightly for clarification.
SC: Linda, were you born in Brooks?
LL: Na, I was born up in Waterville at The Old Sister's Hospital. But I've always lived here in Brooks . . . . After high school I went right into the hospital for an operation, and I wasn't supposed to work for a year; and come September, I got edgy and I started working a short time over at the [Unity] hatchery before I went down to the plant.
SC: What did you do?
LL: I de-beaked chickens, sexed them, injected them, de-toed them, de-beaked them, you name it I did it [laughs].
CC: What is de-beaking?
LL: De-beaking is burning part of the bill off so they don't peck each other as they get bigger . . . . Because as it grows it gets awful pointed and stuff and they can peck each other and make raw places on other birds.
SC: Did you like working out there [at the hatchery]?
LL: It was all right; it was a job. At that time I was young, and I wanted to stay close to home on account of my mom being bad [ill]. And I wasn't there very long before they transferred me down at the plant because things were getting slow . . . . It was either they were going to be laying off or I had a chance to go up to the plant. I had looked around for other jobs and I figured, well, I had been working with the company, I'd stay with them. So I went down to Penobscot.
SC: Let me back up a little bit. Did you go to the hatchery to work initially because your dad had also worked in the poultry industry? Is that what I remember you having said last?
LL: My father had been a pullorum [poultry blood] tester for a good number of years with the University of Maine. He did work for Penobscot and at the time for Maplewood [another poultry processor in Belfast, bankrupt by 1979]. Of course, during the summers, I worked for him testing birds. So I got to know quite a lot. Of course, we raised birds, too; we had laying hens for Maplewood, so I'd grown right up. But no, that wasn't why I went over to the hatchery. It was, at that time, just about the only place that was hiring, you know. And I wanted a job, I was getting edgy not doing anything, even though I was supposed to stay out a year and not even work.
SC: Did lots of friends, did other people you know from Mount View [High School] also hook up with Penobscot for a job?
LL: Not too many, no. As a matter of fact, a lot of the guys in my class were wiped out in Vietnam. I think we lost four or five; and the ones that did come back were disabled, or not with it, or either freaked right out on dope . . . . I think it was a little over, maybe like a hundred and twenty in our class. I can't remember now, but I've got it on the back of my diploma . . . .
SC: So they transferred you down to Penobscot. What did you start doing there?
LL: "Transferring." That's hanging [poultry] from the "New York" room after the feathers have been taken off and they've gone through the foot cutter. . . I was working on Line Two, which did big birds and small birds. And I did that for about, oh, five years; but I kept breaking the skin away from my nails and getting blood poisoning streamers going right up my arm, so that's when I signed up for the sticking job-and the pay was a lot better. At that time I was going through a divorce, so I was out to get as much money as I could to support myself . . . SC: So how long did you do that now?
LL: About four or five years, then I signed right up for the rest of the time to go right out sticking . . . .
SC: Yeah. So that job you had four or five years, and that's a total of how many years that you were at Penobscot? [Clinking sounds of a spoon in a cup, stirring.]
LL: Twenty years, in all with the company.
SC: Twenty years. So after that [transferring] it was into the sticking room or the "blood tunnel"?
LL: The sticking room, the "blood tunnel," or what I called it, "the hell hole," where they had so much blood. No one wanted to come in there when you were in there. You were just by yourself until you got done work.
SC: Tell us about that work, what you did in there?
LL: When I first started out sticking, we didn't have any machinery in there then, except for just the stunners. And that first stunner that made the bird's head hang down is where we usually sat--two of us. There were two stickers in there and we had to do every other bird running right in a full line. And then about '79 . . . they were thinking about increasing the production down there. So they went into the sticking machines, which at first didn't pan out very good. But after awhile, about a half a year, they got it straightened out so it would do a pretty good job--and then you had to back up the machine.
SC: So initially the stunner stunned the bird, but you had to stick them.
LL: Right. Grab it, take a knife and cut the vein right in by the jaw bone.
SC: So, by stunning, essentially that means that the bird was in shock?
LL: Yeah, but not dead; heart was still beating--just kept it kind of quiet. Then you had another stunner that would help to jar it again to get it pumping its blood out, so it would bleed out before it went into the scalder.
SC: You know, we--the first day we photographed the hell hole, we were a little taken aback. It's a pretty gruesome scene in there. How did you feel about it when you began to work in there . . . ?
LL: I was the type of kid growing up that nothing bothered me--blood or anything like that. So when I signed up for that job--of course I'd been in there and I'd watched and I had tried some, you know, on my breaks and stuff . . . So I knew what I was getting into and it didn't bother me, and I preferred working by myself than working by someone that might cause trouble for you on the line . . . .
SC: What were the--it probably got pretty lonely in there [the "blood tunnel"] didn't it?
LL: Well, sometimes if they ran the line real slow you could get hypnotized. You had to keep getting up, moving around--so you wouldn't fall asleep or something. It wasn't a very pleasant job, like in the summer it was real hot with all that rain gear and stuff on; and then in the winter, you just about froze to death before you got a good heating system in there.
SC: Were the birds all pretty much dead by the time they got to you?
LL: No, they were still, you know, flopping their last flop before they died. That's why I was more or less, as you could see--with the rain kerchief, I was more or less covered right up so I wouldn't get too bloody . . . .
SC: Did you make more money working in that job [sticking]?
LL: Yeah, because that was top pay. I mean I got the same as the trailer truck drivers did.
SC: Do you mind telling us what top pay was at Penobscot then?
LL: The last of it then was $5.69 an hour, which was more than what the people were getting on the line. Maybe five, ten, fifteen, or twenty cents more-because each job through that plant you had different wages.... The trailer truck drivers, or straight job drivers, and stickers and weighers got the same wages--$5.69 an hour . . . .CC: What was it paying when you first started working at Penobscot?
LL: When I first went in there, maybe like $3.25, $3.75 an hour. That was way back in '67.
CC: So, between '67 and '88?
LL: We got up to $5.69 an hour. I remember one summer working there, I made $1.25 an hour working in the plant. That was before I was out of high school.
"I Was Content and Not Content" . . . originally took the form of a traveling exhibit, "One Year Later: The Closing of Penobscot Poultry and the Transition of a Veteran Employee." The original exhibit opened in 1989 in Belfast, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Penobscot's closing. Several Maine scholars lectured that evening, including Carolyn Chute, who presented an earlier version of her essay, "Faces in the Hands." Taking Linda's edited oral history and Cedric's photographs back to the community was an electrifying experience. Audience response led us to pursue the book project.Both the exhibit and the book project were made possible in part through the sponsorship of the Maine Folklife Center and grant support from the Maine Humanities Council.

The links where Linda's story can be found are here, though you have to keep changing the number before the html part of the link, as there is no "next" button to hit.

Try to remember that most workers are just as much exploited victims of this industry as the poor chickens. Most of them truly feel like they have no choice. It's quite distressing to me and a few others in the movement to see these people so demonized. It wasn't so long ago that I was standing there in a pool of blood, with it splattered on me literally from head to toe, in my eyes, nose, and ears. And look how far I have come in such a relatively short time, once I was shown a little love, support, understanding, and a different way of life. Please try to include these workers in your circle of compassion you normally reserve for the innocent animals. Very, very few of the workers are truly sadistic. Most are just like me and would never do that job if they thought they had any choice.

I didn't become an animal advocate that does not consume animal products overnight. It took a little bit of time. Remember that when all this started, I was simply trying to improve the conditions these people endure every day so that the majority of you can consume "cheap" meat. After reading stories like the ones posted on this site, I hope you realize that it is anything but "cheap." There is truly a high price in suffering. Take that into account the next time you sit down to a meal.

Remember the sacrifice and suffering it took to put that meat on your plate.

Remember the price paid by human and non-human alike that was paid just so you can satisfy your taste buds.

Is it really worth it?

Posted by: # Virgil / 3:26 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Summary of yesterday's radio show 

Well, I thought the show went pretty good yesterday. For those of you who didn't get a chance to hear it, it will be archived on their site soon, and I am going to give a small summary here today. But first I wanted to share some good news with you.

We have rescued two more chickens! Like the others, they had apparently fallen off of a truck on their way to the slaughterhouse. But unlike the others, these are in pretty good shape. There was one dead one further down the road, but these two had apparently fallen off while the truck wasn't going too fast. They were not far from where our little back road turns onto the highway. So, we are really happy that we have been given the opportunity to give these birds a new life. Because of their size, these would also have been a problem to hang and would have suffered greatly during that process. Some of you might remember the post I wrote about how when the birds are too big, their legs get broken as they are slammed into the shackles that aren't big enough for them. Well, that's the size these birds are. So, we are doubly glad that we were able to save them. As soon as I can I will see about getting some pics of them up on the photo page. (Boy, I'll be glad when I can get my own camera!)

Anyway, back to the radio show yesterday.

You saw the press release, so you already know what it was that I was talking about. But, I will share with you just a bit of what I was saying until you can download the file for yourself.

You see, within the movement there is real problem - a kind of disconnect. So many activists say horrible things about the people who toil away in these miserable conditions and do these uncaring and even torturous things to the birds. But what they don't realize is that these workers are, in most cases, just as much victims of the industry as the chickens, and that the main reason they do unspeakable things is mostly because of these conditions (not always, but usually). Most people seem to think that only "monsters" could do this job, when in reality most of them are simply poor people trying to feed their families and that have no other options. They don't like what they are doing any more than we do, but they truly feel like they have no choice.

I also think that it is important to try to work towards enacting legislation that will prevent violent offenders from working with live animals in these places. It's hard enough on a so-called "normal" person to go in there and do that brutal job. It affects you in so many ways and does things to your head, resulting in actions that you would have never thought you would do, and probably wouldn't have done otherwise. It's even worse when someone who already has violent tendencies gets put in these jobs. I'm not saying that we should make it any harder than it already is for felons, especially violent ones, to get a job. Goodness knows it's hard enough as it is, as I know from personal experience. But, I do believe that people with violent histories should not be working with live animals. Most of them don't make the distinction between people that "deserve it" and animals that I did. And I am not saying that so many people actually "deserve" to be attacked physically. But I thought so at the time. However, I never thought that innocent animals "deserve" it, though most violent offenders don't make that distinction, which is what prompted quite a few of my violent acts. Kind of gave them a dose of their own medicine, so to speak. I have always stood up for the underdog, the weak and helpless, and I have always hated bullies. But, we have to give these people some kind of job ,now don't we? Because if society shuns them and refuses to hire them, then what are they left with besides more crime? And they are still human beings. They may have made a mistake, but no one is (well, at least very few are) totally beyond redemption, as my story clearly illustrates.

The main thing we need to accomplish is to dispel the myth that these incidents are isolated and only committed by "a few bad apples." It's really quite widespread, and most of the people are otherwise "normal" people that just happen to have been born into a rural impoverished area with few opportunities and not much education. They are miserable and have no hope of anything ever getting any better.

But, what I really wanted to get across to everyone was the high potential of CAK (Controlled Atmosphere Killing) to alleviate the vast majority of the problems. Even though we do need to work to get chickens covered under the Humane Slaughter Act so that prosecutors will have a specific law to prosecute offenders under, it still has to be enforced. And we already know how lax that law has been as far as protecting cows and pigs, for instance. Cows are still skinned and dismembered alive, and pigs are still scalded to death, just like chickens are. CAK, on the other hand, will offer real protection to these birds simply because they would be beyond feeling by the time these workers get their hands on them to hang them in the shackles, much less put a knife to their throats.

I have written about this before, but for those that are new to this site and have not read that post yet, CAK is an argon/nitrogen-based system that has 2% residual oxygen, so it's really more of an oxygen-deprivation system. I have researched this thoroughly and read the studies on it, and I am convinced that this is the way to go, both for the chickens and for the workers.
Unlike the inhumane CO2 gas-killing method where the chickens avoid the chamber if they can, and when they can't, gasp and choke as they die, they will calmly walk right into a CAK chamber. They don't detect the lack of oxygen in the air and will just start eating or whatever until they simply fall asleep peacefully and die. In the slaughterhouse, what they would do is to lower each cage of chickens into one of these chambers before dumping them on the belt for the hangers to put in the shackles. The last place these live birds are handled by humans is at the growers' as they are caught and loaded into the cages.

And you may remember me telling you that this is already being used overseas. The most recent place they decided to implement this system is at Deans Foods.at its plant at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. They are using it for "spent hens and breeders," which is a more "challenging task, as the birds tend to be more 'flighty' and 'lively' than broilers. This was of particular concern at the hanging on stage, where the birds seem to suffer additional stress before being stunned."

And, the best thing about this method is that it benefits everyone. It's better for the birds, it makes the workers' jobs much easier and less stressful, and it even helps the industry itself because the meat from these birds is not all bruised, and the bones aren't broken. It's also faster, as they "can now de-bone hens on line, maturing in just two hours rather than the 24 hours that we used to."

The divisional director of Deans Foods just really gushed about this in the article.

"Without a doubt the single most important factor to us in buying the Anglia Autoflow CAS system is that it is the most welfare friendly system of stunning poultry available" Mark Gaskin, divisional director at Deans Foods, said. Both the RSPCA and the Humane Slaughter Association have inspected the system and have given their approval.

"We are also very impressed with the improved staff working conditions and the dramatic change in meat quality," Gaskin said. "We aimed for a certain level, but the actual results have far exceeded our expectations."

So, I guess the next most logical question is: "Why won't the poultry industry over here start using this, if it's so great?"

Good question. That's what I would like to know. But, I will attempt to answer it with the best line of thinking and one we talked about yesterday on the show.

If they agreed to do this, 1) they would be seen "giving in to activist pressure," and 2) they would have to admit to the general public that there is something wrong with the current system. You know how they try to play up how "humane" they are, using the "best science," blah, blah, blah... Well, they couldn't very well have that fly if they decided to implement this and had to explain to their shareholders and the public alike just exactly why they thought that this new method would so greatly improve things that they would spend the money to upgrade all their plants.

But, it is going to happen, anyway. It's just a matter of time. As more and more people find out about this system and put pressure on the industry to do this, they will have to cave. You might remember me recently telling you that PETA had written KFC, Wendy's, and McDonald's about this, asking them to require their suppliers to implement this. Well, KFC is digging in their heels, being stubborn, and refusing to even consider it, while McDonald's has actually decided to study it and see about doing just that. Some of their European suppliers are using it, but they are going to "research it" here first. At least that's something. Good for you, McDonald's. Shame on you, KFC. (For those who want to see just how stubborn and unmoving, and thus uncaring, KFC is, even going against the recommendations of their own welfare advisory folks, I have written about it at length here on the site, and you can use the search box to read all about it and/or you can check this site out: http://www.kentuckyfriedcruelty.com/)

In the meantime, birds are suffering, workers are suffering, and consumers are eating lower-quality, inhumanely-treated - let's face it, downright tortured - chicken. And none of it has to be this way. Only stubbornness is making this happen. With a bit of ignorance thrown in on the part of the public. Let's educate them. You know now, so pass this info around. Please.

Let's just hurry up with the "researching" part. Chickens and workers are suffering right now as McDonald's studies this and as you, the reader of this site, read this. Right now it's happening. Oops! There goes another chicken scalded alive. Oops! There goes another chicken bounced against a wall. There goes another worker being pecked on the arm and getting shit in his face. Hurry up, McDonald's. They are suffering right now...

And we activists, workers (and no doubt, the poor chickens would feel the same if they knew), are getting sick and tired of waiting for someone to care enough to actually do something.
Aren't you?

So, will you help? Will you be a part of the solution? I hope so.

Pass this around. Then, contact KFC and tell them to get with the program. 1-800-CALL-KFC

Monday, February 14, 2005

My radio interview tomorrow 

As I previously mentioned, I will be on the radio tomorrow. I just received the press release in my inbox minutes ago. For those unable to listen to it live, they said that the interview will be archived on the site in about a week or so. When that happens I will update you here with the link to it. Here is their press release:

*** Animal Voices is Toronto's only animal rights and liberation radio program. We air live every Tuesday 11 am-12 pm EDT. Catch us at www.ciut.fm, or in the area at CIUT 89.5 FM. Archived shows and additional info are available at http://www.animalvoices.ca ***

Please join us tomorrow (Feb 15) for a conversation with Virgil Butler, an ex-Tyson slaughterhouse worker from rural Arkansas. We'll learn about his work as a chicken processor and killer, and find out why he eventually quit and became an outspoken animal advocate, founding the group Activists Against Factory Farming (see below). Arguing that worker and animal welfare are closely linked within the slaughterhouse, Virgil will offer his analysis of the current meat industry and share his thoughts on how the situation can beimproved. Specifically, he'll describe the CAK (Controlled Atmosphere Killing) technique that he believes will "reduc[e] the amount of cruelty the chickens have to endure as well as the having potential to help improve working conditions for the workers." Don't miss this opportunity to hear an insider's view of the industry.

For more info about Virgil Butler:

"The Cyberactivist"

Founder of Activists Against Factory Farming

His bio:

Virgil Butler, currently living in rural Arkansas, grew up in the Ozark mountains in northwest Arkansas on a family farm, raising animals, hunting, and fishing. He first started working in the poultry industry catching chickens as a teenager for Valmac industries. After about 5 years of doing this, he left to join the military. After returning from his service, he began work at Tyson aslaughter plant in Grannis, AR. He worked in debone for about 3 months, evisceration for about 6 months, and spent the rest of his years on back dock, as a live-hanger and killer. He also worked briefly at the Tyson plants in Waldron and Clarksville, AR, as a live-hanger, and had brief stint working for Cargill hanging live turkeys. He most recently worked at the Grannis plant as line lead on back dock, doing live-hang, killing and training new-hires to dothat brutal job. His last night was 11-12-02, and since then he has spoken out about his experiences, describing the way the industry victimizes the animals and the workers. He also started his own website, founded Activists Against Factory Farming groups on Yahoo and Care2, and he now practices a strict vegetarian lifestyle. He is currently writing a book about his experiences, giving talks for various groups, acting as keynote speaker for United PoultryConcerns Forum last year in Norfolk. He will be speaking at AR2005 in Los Angeles in July.

*** Also, check out AV's recently archived show w/ Josh Harper (on anarchism, SHAC, and AR) and CEO John Mackey (on the Whole Foods's new animal welfare initiative), as well as our new forum at http://www.animalvoices.ca/forum ***
Posted by: # Virgil / 10:56 AM 0 comments

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Another USDA Whistle-blower on BSE 

Yeah, I know it has been too long since I last posted. Besides being busy with so many projects, I also have been having major computer problems and was offline for over two whole weeks while my computer was in the shop. It's still not feeling up to par everyday, but we are keeping it going. Anyway, you can imagine all the stuff that built up over a two-week period that had to be dealt with once I finally got back online. Anyway, enough excuses, on to today's post:

Here is a brief excerpt from an article I received in the Agribusiness Examiner newsletter (they got it from Public Citizen, btw, but didn't provide a link, though I have the whole article if anyone wants it. It's also posted here.):

On December 8, 2004, NJC chair Charles Painter sent a letter, on behalf of the NJC (the government meat inspectors' union), to the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), outlining concerns about the removal of "specified risk materials" (SRMs) from cattle and FSIS inspectors' ability to enforce the export requirements for products destined for Mexico. SRMS are the nervous system tissues believed to be most likely to carry the infectious prions that cause mad cow disease.

Among his concerns:

1) Plant employees are not correctly identifying and marking animals over 30 months old, which means plant employees and government personnel further down the line are unaware that numerous parts should be removed as SRMs and these high-risk materials are entering the food supply, and

2) [Production line] inspectors are not authorized by the USDA to take actions when they see plant employees sending products that do not meet export requirements past the point on the line where they can be identified and removed.

Rather than addressing the issues raised, the USDA reacted to the letter by directing extraordinary resources to targeting the NCJ chairman and other regional union presidents:

* On December 23, FSIS compliance officer appeared unannounced at the home of Painter, while he was on annual leave, to question him about the allegations in the letter.

* On December 28, Painter received a notice from FSIS that he was under formal investigation.* On January 6, Painter was ordered to Washington, D.C., to be questioned for three hours by FSIS.

* On January 7, seven regional council presidents for the NJC also were ordered to appear in Washington, D.C., on January 11 for an interview.

"Mr. Painter offered this information to the USDA because he was concerned that the agency's inadequate policy could put consumers in danger," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's food program. "The USDA should have been grateful, but it chose to attack the whistleblower instead of attacking the problem.

Sound familiar? The same thing they did with Lester Friedlander. And the same thing that was done to me by Tyson when I came forward. The industry and the USDA don't like their bottom line to be affected by anyone worrying about whether or not their food is safe, any more than they want anyone worrying about animal cruelty, or unsafe working conditions for the workers. They don't want anyone thinking about those things at all. They want you to just keep right on buying those products and letting them worry about it (or not, as the facts show the case is).

I would like to point soething else out about this case that I believe worthy of notice:

In his letter, Painter did not identify specific plants where reports had come from, because he did not know. In fact, he chose not to learn the identity of the plants so that he would not be forced to disclose this information, which could allow the agency to take retaliatory action against the inspectors assigned to these plants.

Sounds to me like he is truly doing this because he is quite worried and not to get anyone into trouble. Pretty much how Lester Friedlander started out when he started talking. No decent person wants to have the burden of knowing that people suffered and died and they could have prevented it by simply speaking up. I know I don't. Would you?

To give you an idea of the amount of support Painter has, here are the groups involved that signed onto a letter to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns at the USDA:

The American Corn Growers Association, Cancer Prevention Coalition, Center for Food Safety,Community Nutrition Institute, Consumer Federation of America,Consumer Policy Institute/Consumers Union, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease Foundation, Inc., Family Farm Defenders, Government Accountability Project, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Farmers Union, Lane County Food Coalition, Organic Consumers Association, Public Citizen, Safe Tables Our Priority, The Humane Society of the United States and the Weston A. Price Foundation.

To read the groups' letter, please go to
To read Charles Painter's letter, please go to

I am keeping this particular post brief, as I have quite a bit going on now. I am scheduled to be on Animal Voices radio Tuesday, the 15th at 11:15-12:00 EST. This is the same show I linked before that carries Lester Friedlander's interview, among others. As these arrangements have recently been made, but not confirmed since I accepted the invitation, they could change. If I hear back from them with anything definite, I will let you know.

Meanwhile I am still working to keep my groups up-to-date with the latest info on factory farming issues, working on my book, and getting ready for my talk at AR2005 (more on that later). I have also been getting a bit of work lately, and Laura and I are not in as dire straights as before, though we can still use your help as the number of obligations we have continue to increase. I can tell you this much, though. From now on, any donations sent to us will not be used for personal reasons anymore, but every penny will go to further our work. Our project now is to get enough funding together (around $1000) to make the trip to L.A. in July for me to speak at AR2005. As I said, I will write that whole issue up soon, as I will my take on the Human Rights Watch report on maltreatment and unsafe working conditions slaughterhouse workers face that came out recently. Again, if you want to stay current, your best bet is to join one or both of my AAFF groups, as I have had less and less time to keep this blog current.

Have a good day, everyone. Done your good deed yet today? If not, why not? Go ahead.

And smile. :) Peace.
Posted by: # Virgil / 11:38 AM 0 comments

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