By Kathy Guillermo
When I was 17, I spent a summer working at KFC, then known by its pre-trendy name Kentucky Fried Chicken, in my small Missouri hometown. My job was to pack the chicken in the boxes and buckets for customers. At that time, there was no People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and in my part of the world, the phrase "animal rights" was unknown.
I never dreamed that one day I'd be working for PETA and writing about a hideous video showing employees at a KFC supplier sadistically torturing chickens. The footage, taken by an undercover PETA investigator at a Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant in West Virginia, shows workers stomping on live chickens, kicking them and flinging them full force at walls and floors. The investigator also witnessed employees twisting the heads off live chickens and, in Charles Manson style, writing on the wall with their blood. He saw them spit tobacco into the birds' eyes and mouths, spray-paint their faces and tie their legs together in a knot, apparently just because they thought it was funny.
KFC execs were "appalled" at the video and disavowed any knowledge of the abuse at its second-largest supplier of chickens, and 1997 KFC Supplier of the Year. They expressed outrage that PETA "mischaracterizes" Pilgrim's Pride as a "KFC facility" when all KFC does is buy chicken corpses from the company. These are the same people who released a statement just last year claiming, "KFC is committed to the well being and humane treatment of chickens and we require all of our suppliers to follow welfare guidelines developed by us with leading experts on our Animal Welfare Advisory Council. Our suppliers are receiving unannounced audits at their poultry facilities throughout the year."
These are the same people whose Web site falsely claimed that chickens raised for KFC suffer no injuries or pain and that PETA's charges were untrue, until PETA filed a lawsuit and KFC was forced to make sweeping changes to the Web site.
These are the same people whose own advisory board member, the respected designer of more-humane slaughterhouses Dr. Temple Grandin, viewed the video and was quoted as saying that a "culture change" is needed in the poultry industry and that it must be generated by consumers.
It's time for KFC to quit crying "poor me" and do something meaningful. While PETA would love it if people stopped eating animals altogether, we have never asked KFC to shut down. Here's what we ask KFC to do:
Improve conditions on factory farms, with more space, some mental and physical stimulation and air that is not so dense with ammonia that the chickens suffer scarred lungs just by breathing.
Replace electrical stunning and throat-slitting with controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK), a process that gently puts the birds to sleep and is supported by KFC's own advisors. All experts agree that CAK causes much less suffering than KFC's present method of snapping chickens' legs into metal shackles and slitting their throats, often while they are still conscious.
Switch to humane mechanized chicken-gathering. Studies have shown that using manual methods results in four times as many broken legs, more than eight times as much bruising and increased stress.
Breed for health rather than forcing rapid growth. Breed leaner, healthier, less aggressive birds instead of breeding the biggest, fattest birds possible, and stop feeding chickens antibiotics and other drugs for nontherapeutic purposes.
KFC should stop making excuses and start taking its own animal welfare pronouncements seriously.
Kathy Guillermo writes for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PETA).
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