Thanks, USDA! Coming soon: Laying hens that won’t try to kill each other

Time for a new Meatrix?: Lest we forget that the Department of Agriculture’s role is to help out the food industry by any means possible, a team of scientists led by USDA Agricultural Research Service biologist Heng-wei Cheng and William M. Muir of Purdue University has “developed a line of laying hens that display far less aggression than their commercial counterparts, while maintaining industry-standard egg production.” Translation: Just as many eggs but far fewer dead birds, even without the usual beak-trimming.  Fun fact: This is what the industry considers “success” — the kinder, gentler line had just a 20% mortality rate, compared to 54% for the control line and 89% for the commercial line. And another one: to date breeders have singlemindedly concentrated on increasing egg production, even as death “due to aggression and cannibalism among the birds with untrimmed beaks has also increased about 10-fold.” (USDA Agricultural Research Service; hat tip @obamafoodorama) Wow. Guess those Type A superstar egg layers don’t like being crammed on top of each other in cages too small to stretch their wings or turn around. But never fear, rather than move toward more humane conditions, we’ll just breed more docile birds … who may or may not have hidden vulnerabilities to say, disease. Another giant step for mankind on our amazingly stupid quest to turn animals into vegetables. Literally.

5 Responsesto “Thanks, USDA! Coming soon: Laying hens that won’t try to kill each other”

  1. Harlan says:

    I’m mixed on this. Sure, it reinforces confined feeding of commercial chickens. On the other hand, it reduces cruelty. If you could remove the brain from the chicken entirely, and just grow drumsticks and boneless-skinless breasts in a vat, in some sense that would be optimal, as you wouldn’t need to kill anything with any level of consciousness to have dinner. It’s better to eat pastured chickens/eggs, sure, but they’re expensive and always will be, because of the land required. I often eat pastured chickens/eggs, but if I go out for dinner, I rarely have the option. I’d at least like the peace of mind to know that the chicken sandwich/souffle I’m eating is from a minimally-tortured chicken.

  2. This actually makes sense. We breed our livestock for temperament out on pasture too. Pleasant animals get to stay and breed. The mean go to the butcher. I can’t take the risks of having nasty 250 lb or 1,000 lb pigs or even a belligerent rooster or hen on our family farm around me, my wife or our kids. I have a firm rule: I eat mean people.

  3. Sophy says:

    I don’t know about this. I guess one of the big questions is how did this new breed of chickens come about. Their are plenty of ways to create a more docile chicken using age-old selective breeding as Walter mentions, but somehow I doubt this is how they did it. Really, it just seems like an excuse to keep the chickens caged up, when we should be working to get them out on the land. Perhaps at times it is more expensive, but in that case, I say eat less eggs. If you buy direct from a farmer instead of at Whole Foods, you also find savings in buying organic/sustsainable eggs.

  4. Ron says:

    Sophy, are you joking, of COURSE this is an obvious maneuver to keep chickens stacked and caged and industrially confined…it’s FACTORY FARMING. This system will utilize a chemical or genetically modified approach at almost any point over a natural or rational solution that will decrease profitability of their operation. Buying directly from a farmer OR from Whole Foods will discourage this system so long as they are guaranteed to be cage-free and humanely laid eggs. Additionally, maligning Whole Foods doesn’t do any less to support factory farming keeping in mind that Whole Foods buys from the same farmers ‘directly’ as you would…however the volume of business generated by an account with Whole Foods can literally mean the difference to a small farmer between growing their business into something profitable and sustainable or remaining solely on the farmer’s market level. 

  5. Sophy says:

    No one is maligning Whole Foods Ron, I’m just saying that it can be very expensive to shop there. I know, because sometimes I do, and it usually costs an arm and a leg. What I was saying is that if you buy your eggs directly from a farmer, they will be cheaper than if you buy them from Whole Foods, as such markets tend to mark up prices 50%-100%.