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17th November 2013

Ode to Battery Chickens and Force Fed Geese

‘Chicken Run’ is one of those films which upon enunciating the name, stirs up the flame and fire deep in every child’s bosom. It is a story awash with freedom and slavery, honour and treachery, bravery and cowardice, but above all it is an epic tale recounting the exploits of how a group of battery […]

‘Chicken Run’ is one of those films which upon enunciating the name, stirs up the flame and fire deep in every child’s bosom. It is a story awash with freedom and slavery, honour and treachery, bravery and cowardice, but above all it is an epic tale recounting the exploits of how a group of battery hens are gripped by the feverish anti-colonial winds of change. They are on a Che Guevarist quest for freedom from the oppression and tyranny of a traditional 1950s Yorkshire pie factory and they are victorious.

I couldn’t eat chicken for two weeks.

Today, many years have passed and I would argue that we have too easily forgotten the hard fought lessons of ‘Rocky’ and ‘Ginger’ and their successful poultry revolution. As students, most of us cower behind the stringent demands of our meagre student budget, consequently obsessing over the price of chicken strips, yet rarely chewing over the conditions it was raised in. However whenever questions are raised about the said chicken’s or lamb’s or whatever animal has four legs and goes lovely roasted with a touch of mint sauce, the debate tends to be hijacked by people trying to explain that we should either all become vegan or that halal is 21st Century barbarity.

An interesting case of where campaigners have had a negative effect is the foie gras industry.

In France every year around Christmas, semi-clandestine animal rights movements mount their daring raids and operations, by divulging the sad reality behind an innocent plate of foie gras. The scandals are always the same: a deeply disturbing video of a farmer or farmhand force feeding geese in the most appalling fashion. This usually consists of having a pipe stuck down their throat in order to fatten and boost the geese or duck’s liver in order to maliciously increase sales margins. Everyone sitting on a sofa watching the ‘Journal du 13h’ (‘1 O’clock news) is appalled and finds it hard to stomach.

(Note that force feeding animals, especially the feathered kind dates back to deepest antiquity where the canny Egyptian’s found that by stuffing and gorging an animal with food they could fatten it up for Pharaoh’s feast.)

In the case of foie-gras, a minority of high-profile scandals have turned the public opinion of a few countries and states such as California, sour and green with disgust. For instance during the star studded Festival de Cannes, no restaurant’s will have foie gras on their menu as many actors and actresses would be horrified, leave and then the owner would go bankrupt. California has enacted legislation that prohibits restaurants on serving foie gras although there is a loophole around this as you can bring your own foie gras to the restaurant in a lunchbox. Amazon recently has imposed a blanket ban on foie gras exports, meaning that the gourmet’s among us will have to board a Ryanair flight to Toulouse in order to get our hands on some, failing that a trip to Marks & Spencer’s is a good plan B.

The trouble with the foie-gras industry though is that majority of farmers actually do rear their geese and ducks in the fresh air of France’s south-western open countryside. Moreover, foie-gras scandals have predominantly been the focus of force feeding geese and rarely ducks. Yet the legislation passed doesn’t discriminate as it imposes a blanket ban. Therefore, as always, the few have completely ruined it and gone and made a pig’s breakfast of the whole affair for everyone.

The daughter of Mr Jean-Pierre Lamothe, a farmer working in a cooperative rearing ducks, caught up in these dire times summed it up rather beautifully: “It really pisses me off because people don’t make the difference between good and bad foie-gras so everybody suffers just like in Game of Thrones”.

Dear readers, the situation with foie-gras is far from black and white, it is rather a light shade of grey, surrounded by the yellowish fat of ignorance.

Returning to our battery raised hens; the outlook is as bleak as ever.

24 million chickens in the United Kingdom are holed up in cages, ensuring the low budget friendly prices of eggs and endless supply of cheap McDonald’s nuggets. They spend their entire life feeding and subsequently laying eggs in truly harrowing conditions. Once they are past their prime, they are let out of their wire mesh-made cage and strut down the green mile under the bright neon lights, to the tune of an electric generator’s hum, until they reach the abattoir. There is no final post played, no cockerel’s call, only silence as their lifeless feathered bodies are shipped out, readied and packaged for an afterlife of 2 for a fiver on a supermarket shelf near you.

We are the guilty men of mass-produced battery hens and other forms of cruelty in the food chain that we dominate like Stagecoach does Oxford road, completely, mercilessly and coldly according to Fingland’s sympathizers.

We ought to do something for these fowls who spend their entire lives behind bars.

We ought to rear more than a few good (free) hens.

We ought to remember why chickens run.

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