By Jim Poling Sr.
It is cold, snowing and the car headlights snap on as twilight descends over the final kilometers of the trip back from the Big Smoke.
Twilight means it is dinner time and we are hungry, but have little enthusiasm for thinking about cooking dinner. There are other chores: shovelling to the front door, firing up the woodstove, checking the water system to see if anything has frozen.
Dinner is not a real concern because our car is filled with the delightful aroma of freshly roasted chicken. It is coming from one of those seasoned rotisserie chickens that you buy at take-out food counters in stores like Costco, Wal-Mart and others.
When the chores are done, just pull the plump and tender roasted chicken from its plastic container, set it beside a salad, grab a slice or two of bread and voila – supper. No fuss, no mess and delicious for only $7.99 (plus tax of course) at Costco. (In a U.S. Costco it’s $4.99 American, a price that hasn’t changed in more than 10 years.)
An uncooked chicken costs $10 to $12 at a grocery store, so how does Costco manage to sell ready-to-eat, seasoned rotisserie chickens for $7.99?
Jeff Lyons, a Costco senior vice president, has said the company sells 100 million of them a year. He would not confirm reports that its chickens are a loss leader – sold at cost or less to pull in customers who buy other stuff.
Mercy for Animals, an organization dedicated to ending exploitation of animals for food, says it knows how Costco does it. Its website says the chickens are super-fast grown in “crowded, filthy barns.”
The organization did some undercover videoing at a new $450 million Costco chicken facility in Nebraska which produces two million birds a week.
It said it found thousands of chickens crowded together, living for weeks in piles of their own feces.
“Chickens struggling to walk under their own unnatural weight. Bodies burned bare from ammonia-laden litter. Dead days-old chicks. Piles of rotting birds. This is Costco Chicken.”
The chickens are force-fed to produce the plump breasts favoured by consumers. Their legs often can’t support the unnatural weight gains and birds topple over and end up lying in the poop. The poop contains ammonia which Mercy says burns the birds left to lie in it.
Some weaker and smaller birds, particularly chicks, are trampled and crushed, and left to rot.
Costco says it has an animal welfare task force that audits its animal facilities and follows the five freedoms of animal well-being – freedom from fear, freedom from discomfort, freedom from thirst and hunger, freedom to exhibit natural behaviour and freedom from pain and suffering.
Costco and other companies do take steps to ease the suffering of animals killed for food. For instance, Costco in its Nebraska facility puts chickens to sleep with carbon dioxide before they are plunged into boiling water to loosen their feathers, thus preventing the birds from being boiled alive.
Philosophical arguments supporting killing animals for food have been around forever. Like, non-human animals don’t think, don’t have souls, and don’t act morally. They are far below us and here solely for our benefit.
There always have been people who don’t accept those arguments, but they have had little impact on the food industry. A majority of people want meat to eat and meat production provides many jobs and economic benefits.
These days more people are objecting by going vegan. They have stopped eating meat, or eat only meats from animals they know have been treated humanely.
No matter what food companies say or do, animals destined for our dinner plates are not going to live in the comfortable styles we afford our pet cats and dogs. People have been demanding meat to eat for centuries and crowding animals into tight spaces for butchering has been accepted as part of the process.
It’s a controversial, complicated subject and one for better brains than mine to figure out.
Will I buy and eat another Costco rotisserie chicken? I don’t know. Probably.
What I definitely do know is that all living things, animals, plants or insects, are equally important parts of nature that deserve and must be treated with respect.