How a barbaric, unknown chicken industry practice got exposed and nearly eliminated in weeks

How a barbaric, unknown chicken industry practice got exposed and nearly eliminated in weeks
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Compassion Over Killing

Have you ever seen or heard about these little plastic sticks or rods called “nose bones?” They look a bit like thick plastic toothpicks. In the chicken industry, workers are paid to take these “bones” and stab them through the sensitive nostrils of young male breeder birds.

The practice is commonly referred to as “boning,” and it’s as barbaric as it looks and sounds.

Chances are that unless you’re a chicken-breeding industry insider, you’ve probably never heard of this. I didn’t really know much about it either until a Compassion Over Killing investigator got a job with Tyson Foods.

He was hired as a “blood collector” (more about that another time), and was part of a company crew that went to several chicken breeding factory farms throughout Virginia. While the facilities themselves are independently owned by contractors, the birds are all owned by Tyson itself.

These birds, known in the industry as “broiler breeders,” are the parent flocks of the chickens who are raised and killed for meat.

While birds raised for meat (aka “broilers”) are typically slaughtered when they’re still babies, breeder birds must live long enough to reach maturity to breed. They’ll spend just over one year living inside filthy, massive warehouses, breeding and laying eggs, before they too end up in a slaughterhouse.

What does any of this have to do with that practice of “boning”? Everything.

In an effort to to maximize the amount of meat per bird while also minimizing the time needed to raise birds until they reach “slaughter weight,” the chicken industry has genetically manipulated these animals to grow unnaturally fast and abnormally obese. Painfully trapped in their “frankenbird” bodies, these birds have developed extreme appetites because of such extreme growth. As a result, these animals often collapse under their own weight, leaving them unable to walk to access food or water. Others suffer from severe heart, lung, and leg deformities. Victims of their own genetics, countless birds will die before even being sent to slaughter.

However, unlike an average “meat” chicken, who will be slaughtered at less than two months old—before these ailments fully manifest—breeder birds are forced to defy their manipulated genetics and live into adulthood.

How? The industry severely restricts the birds’ food intake. In other words, these birds are forced to live in perpetual starvation so that they don’t become overweight, even though becoming obese is exactly what the birds have been selectively bred to do. And after months of misery, if they manage to live long enough, these are the manipulated genetics they will pass on: extreme hunger and unnaturally fast growth.

Here’s where “nose bones” enter the picture. These birds have voracious appetites yet are denied access to enough food to satiate them, so male birds often aggressively push all the hens away in order to eat all the available food. So the industry created a cruel way to address an already cruel situation: Nose “bones.”

These wide plastic “bones” are used in male birds to physically block their heads from fitting inside food dispensers designated for females. Neither males nor females are provided enough food to satiate their hunger, but nose bones have been used to balance out the food provided to both.

While this has been common in the industry, not all companies use nose bones, suggesting viable alternatives are available to adequately address this issue of extreme hunger.

After Compassion Over Killing documented Tyson employees grabbing male breeder birds by their heads and stabbing dull plastic “bones” through the nostrils, the company immediately announced that it was ending this practice.

Days after media coverage of this undercover footage went viral, COK reached out to other major chicken producers about this important issue. As a result, Perdue and Wayne Farms quickly followed Tyson’s lead by stating that they, too, are putting an end to the use of nose bones. Several other leading poultry companies, including Pilgrim’s, Sanderson Farms, Foster Farms, and Keystone Foods, promptly replied to confirm that they’ve never engaged in this practice.

Most recently, House of Raeford, the 9th largest poultry producer in the US, shared a statement that it’s currently phasing out this practice within its breeder flocks, with the goal to be entirely nose bone-free by early 2018.

This leaves only a handful of major producers, such as Koch Foods, Peco Foods, and Mountaire Farms, that have not yet responded to our inquiry. Instead, these companies have so far chosen to keep the public in the dark about this important issue of animal cruelty.

And while Tyson and other companies are taking a step in the right direction by ending the cruel practice of “boning,” these birds will continue to be starved and forced to suffer until the industry address the underlying problem: stop breeding and raising birds who have been genetically manipulated for fast growth.

For far too long, the chicken industry has operated with limited public scrutiny, but as cruel practices are uncovered, consumers are speaking up. As the largest poultry company in the US, Tyson could take the lead by implementing change that has the wingspan to impact billions of birds.

Erica Meier is the executive director of Compassion Over Killing. Follow her on twitter: @EricaMeier

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