Who Pays for Bird Flu?

Fifty years ago, American chicken farmers found that by keeping their birds in sheds they could produce chickens for the table more cheaply and with less work than by traditional farmyard methods. The new method spread: chickens disappeared from fields into long, windowless sheds. Factory farming was born.

It isn’t called “factory farming” merely because those sheds look like factories. Everything about the production method is geared towards turning live animals into machines for converting grain into meat or eggs at the lowest possible cost.

Walk into such a shed – if the producer will let you – and you will find up to 30,000 chickens. The National Chicken Council, the trade association for the US chicken industry, recommends a stocking density of 85 square inches per bird – less than a standard sheet of typing paper. When the chickens approach market weight, they cover the floor completely. No chicken can move without having to push through other birds. In the egg industry, hens can barely move at all, because they are crammed into wire cages, which makes it possible to stack them in tiers, one above the other.

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