Concerned About Japanese Dolphins? Good. Now How About American Chickens?

The cries of outrage from much of the world about Japan's recent dolphin slaughter offers insight into two key aspects of our modern world. The first is that we are increasingly a planet of animal lovers -- people who rightly abhor the type of violence and bloodshed being perpetrated against these intelligent animals off the shores of Japan. The second, however, is a bit more sobering: this incident highlights the vast chasm between how we say we feel about animals and how we actually act toward them ourselves.

American consumers are shocked to see dolphins rounded up and slaughtered en masse. But after decrying this exploitation of animals a barbaric relic of centuries past, we happily proceed to the closest fast food restaurant and buy meat from animals whose lives were so miserable, they'd envy the Japanese dolphins if they knew about them.

While the dolphins who are killed to satiate demand for their flesh in Japan at least enjoyed free lives until their demise, nearly all of the animals eaten by Americans suffer on factory farms for months on end. In fact, for most farmed animals, slaughter -- as horrific as that process is -- finally puts an end to their suffering.

For example, virtually all of the chickens eaten in the U.S. have been genetically selected to grow so obese so fast, they live in chronic pain, barely able to take more than a few steps before collapsing into their own manure underneath them.

After about six weeks of this torment, they're sent to slaughter, where they're denied even the very modest protection of the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. If you think dolphin slaughter is a bloody affair, try going to a chicken slaughter house and seeing what you think.

Similarly, nearly all of the chickens used for egg production in our country spend more than a year locked inside cages so small they can't even spread their wings. And then, after this lifetime of immobilization, they're gassed to death.

Sure, dolphins are known for being brainiacs of the ocean, but chickens are also extremely intelligent animals who can suffer enormously. Researchers now know that chickens have individual personalities, use tools, have impressive linguistic ability and even teach knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. In fact, as avian experts have noted about these birds, when it comes to their intelligence, they really should be thought of as "feathered apes."[1]

So while the Japanese are sadly slaughtering thousands of dolphins annually, Americans are tormenting and slaughtering billions of chickens each year. That's not to say that Japan treats chickens any better than we do -- they don't -- but it is to put into perspective our outrage.

Yes, absolutely, we should condemn the senseless violence against dolphins in Japan. But in doing so, let us also condemn our own callous animal exploitation here in the U.S. And after condemning it, we can also then do something about it. We can choose a more compassionate relationship with animals. We can choose to live and let live, and leave them off our plates.

[1]References page 32 of Chickens by Annie Potts, she cites avian experts Susan Orosz and Gay Bradshaw