Wegmans Cruelty: An Unofficial Blog

This is an unofficial blog and informational archive related to the WEGMANSCRUELTY film and resulting campaign.

Please see that page for more information.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Rottenchester

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Chickenshit Redoux

I must respectfully disagree with "again and again". I think this is quite an interesting subject, and I plan on discussing it ad infinitum.

I spent some time this weekend downloading and watching the Chicken Crusaders' video and reading every word on their website (http://wegmanscruelty.com). I came away with three impressions:

1. These are some well-organized, brave and smart people. Anyone who is trying to advance a cause or agenda would do well to take a good look at their site and use it as a model. Whether you agree or disagree with them, they deserve respect. Four Rochester residents have worked hard and taken serious personal risk to speak out about what they view as an injustice. They've accomplished a lot with very limited resources. Anyone who whines about Rochester and how nothing happens here can take this as an object lesson on how some of your neighbors spend their time working hard to make the world a better place.

2. Wegmans was caught out fair and square. A lot of their claims, both on their website and those made by their PR flack, are false. Wegmans owes their customers a solid, verifiable plan to bring their egg operation up to their own (low) standard. Wegmans has lost some of my trust, and from now on I will look at their food safety claims with heightened skepticism. In business terms, this means that I will be reluctant to pay extra for Wegmans-branded "especially good" products like "Angus Beef", and I'll also mistrust the Wegmans store brand. Wegmans response to-date, which is essentially stonewalling, isn't the behavior I'd expect from a Forbes #1 company.

3. The Chicken Crusaders need to broaden their focus to interest the average egg eater. The main focus of their video, and the materials on their site, is how cruelly the chickens are treated at the egg farm. But there's a lot more that should upset the carnivores among us.

Here's some of the alleged cruelty: Baby chicks have the tips of their beaks trimmed off so they won't peck out they eyes of other chickens when they grow up. Hens are packed tightly into cages and their shit falls on the chickens below them. Some hens get tangled up in those cages and sometimes starve to death.

At the end of their movie, a montage of chicken abuse pictures are shown while a folk singer drones on. At the end of this montage, a few of the chickens rescued by the Crusaders are shown pecking around in a field of grass. Immediately before the montage, a Humane Society representative claims that the only humane way to raise chickens is "free range".

Frankly, I could care less about the fate of the chickens. I'm sorry, but the term "dumb cluck" didn't get coined out of thin air. I don't think that we owe chickens a "free range" lifestyle, and I think the average egg consumer agrees.

The Crusaders were so focused on the cruelty angle that they forgot to mention a number of good reasons why every consumer of eggs should be pissed that Wegmans' farm is considered a "model operation".

Lets begin with the chickens shitting on other chickens. The Crusaders seem upset about this because the chickens are losing some essential dignity by being shat upon. Not true - they have no dignity in the first place, because they are goddamn chickens.

The second "horrible" thing that was happening in the egg barn was that the carcasses of dead chickens were left to decay along with the live chickens A lot of these carcasses were caused by chickens getting tangled up in the wire of their cages. Again, the Crusaders concentrated on how "gross" this was and how terrible it was that the living chickens had to spend time with dead chickens. I didn't see any mourning chickens in the video, so I'm not worried about their grieving process.

Finally, the Crusaders were offended that the chickens were packed together so tightly. Again, the basis for offense was how uncomfortable this made the hens, and, again, I don't really give a shit if they're comfortable, as long as they're grunting out a nice, white, Grade AA oueves.

In each of these cases (shit, dead chickens, and tight packing), my real concern is the health ramifications of the confinement operation. By letting the chickens live in filth, by letting dead chickens rot in cages with the live chickens, and by packing them so tightly, the Wegmans' egg farm has introduced the risk of disease. To counteract this risk, they dose the chickens with antibiotics. It is no coincidence that confinement farming is a late 20th century innovation, because it would be impossible to accomplish without high doses of antibiotics. By introducing huge amounts of antibiotics into the ecosystem, these confinement farms are hastening the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. And that has a direct impact on me, because the number of effective antibiotics has grown smaller over the past few years. This is a real, serious issue that wasn't even mentioned by the Crusaders. When I get an infection, I want the antibiotic to work, and the filth of these egg confinement operations is endangering my life, and the lives of you and your children, in ways that are non-obvious but real.

The second issue with the filth of confinement farming is the possiblity that the eggs will be dirty. In the past few years, we've been taught to treat a fresh egg like a radioactive isotope or armed bomb. I remember when Caesar Salad dressing contained -gasp- raw eggs! Inconceivable as this is today, people regularly consumed raw eggs in previous generations without dropping dead. I've got to believe that the filth of the confinement farm has something to do with the food safety issues we're facing today.

So, I'm with the Crusaders: Wegmans needs to clean up. They need to stop letting chickens shit on other chickens, they must remove dead chickens quickly, and they need to move out the chickenshit more often. But I come to this conclusion because confinement farming is a direct risk to me and my family, not because of some romantic views about the rights of chickens.

The Crusaders have done a great thing by exposing Wegmans' egg operation as a dirty hellhole. Now they need to find common ground with non-Vegan, reasonable people who are upset with the risks that confinement farming poses to our health.

posted by Rottenchester at 7:13 PM

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