Are Brainless Chickens the Solution to Animal Cruelty?

A thought-provoking new model suggests the best way to avoid hurting chickens is to take away their ability to feel.

André Ford installation The Centre for Unconscious Farming, chicken in metal frame and connected to tubes

Cramped cages. Extreme temperatures. Filthy surroundings. No doubt about it: Our industrial food system treats animal welfare as an afterthought. As a commentary on today's “modern” farming, a London architecture student has created a thought-provoking design for a chicken farm that strips the birds of their mobility—and their brains.

Royal College of Art student André Ford created the installation, dubbed The Centre for Unconscious Farming. It’s a pretty grim affair, made of a massive steel frame that would contain up to 1,000 birds. In it the chickens are completely immobilized—their feet are removed (to save space), and the birds receive food, water and oxygen through an intricate network of tubes. In order to eliminate the suffering that chickens would face under such conditions, Ford proposes that the birds’ cerebral cortex be removed, leaving the brain stem (and key homeostatic functions) intact. The chickens would continue to grow, but would basically spend their lives in a coma.

Ford asserts his concept isn’t just a bid for attention:

“In the past six years we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in the demand for meat. Higher welfare systems are available, but this project looks at addressing the inherent problems with the dominant system that produces the majority of our meat—the system that will be increasingly relied upon… We do not, and cannot, provide adequate welfare for those agricultural products and therefore welfare should be removed entirely.”

Currently, about 95 percent of broiler chickens produced in the U.S.—about 8.44 billion birds annually—are raised in commercial farms, which frequently consist of dark sheds where thousands of animals are packed together ingesting ammonia fumes in extreme temperatures. The animals are bred to grow quickly, which often leads to heart and lung troubles, as well as crippling leg deformities. Compassion in World Farming estimates that tens of millions of birds die before slaughter from heart failure, disease, or injury during transport.

Ford is not the first to propose extreme measures in light of our unrelenting demand. Agribusiness “philosopher” Paul Thompson has suggested breeding blind broilers, since studies show that they respond better to the stress of packed sheds.

“There are numerous differences between the current dominant production systems and the one I am proposing,” Ford told Wired UK,“but the fundamental difference is the removal of suffering. Whether what I am proposing is an appropriate means to achieve the removal of suffering is open to interpretation.”

 

 

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