Animal Law

Bad News For Chickens in the United States

nnual Consumption (lbs) per Capita, 1909-2012. Source: NPR. Data via Earth Policy Institute

Annual Consumption (lbs) per Capita, 1909-2012. Source: NPR. Data via Earth Policy Institute

According to, “per capita chicken consumption in the US has risen from under 20 lbs in 1909 to about 60 lbs in 2012.” Meanwhile, “beef consumption has dropped from a peak of over 80 lbs per capita in the 1970s to under 60 lbs in 2012.” This is the first time in 100 years chicken has surpassed beef in popularity.

Chicken consumption is probably on the increase for a few reasons: one, because it’s a lot cheaper to buy than beef, with beef being expensive as ever; two, the raising and processing of chicken produces less emissions than cattle beef does; and three, consumers are told that chicken is healthier than beef.

But consumers ought to know that the most popular animal flesh to get at the supermarket has the least amount of federal protection. There is no federal law pertaining to how our food animals are raised on the farms — chicken or otherwise. And although chickens make up the vast majority of farmed animals (a whopping 95%!), they are exempt from the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The Act requires that livestock animals (cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep, swine, and goats) must be “rendered insensible to pain… before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut.” The Act exempts animals killed in ritual slaughter — and all poultry. In 2005, the USDA made it clear that chickens are exempt from the HMSA, and merely stated that poultry must be handled “in a manner that is consistent with good commercial practices, which means they should be treated humanely.”

Because federal protection has its limitations, our food animals rely on state law. But state anti-cruelty laws have limitations of their own: 36 states expressly exempt “customary” farming practices from their statutes. As a result, agribusiness determines which farming practices are cruel or not. Further, state laws are under threat thanks to “ag-gag” bills, which seek to punish whistleblowers who expose cruelty at farms.

Cruelty like this:

Limited protections, subjected to cruelty, and with even greater pressure as consumer demands are rising — It’s a bad time to be a chicken right now. (Worse than usual.)

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