Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held in his hands an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve.” (Elisabeth Costello, in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals)

I had just left Owen Sound and was on my way home after the weekly trip to run a few errands and do some shopping when I first heard the news about an animal rights group having released a video of alleged abuse of chickens at a poultry factory-farm near Chilliwack, B.C.

The radio-news report said the alleged abuse involved people hired as “chicken catchers” to gather up chickens, and pack them in shelves of plastic cages for shipment by truck to plants for slaughtering and further processing.

Before he continued the CBC reporter warned the description of the details might be difficult for some people to hear. And so they were.

I thought about the fairly large package of fresh chicken breasts I had on board, bought within the past hour at one of the Owen Sound supermarkets I routinely visit. I wondered about the chances any of those chickens – the ones that had survived the worst of the alleged abuse – had ended up in that store, and possibly even in one of the bags of groceries in the back of my van.

Likely just a remote possibility. But what did this now internationally infamous hidden-camera video reveal: a rare occurence in the poultry raising and processing industry, or not?

We don’t know. We should.

I certainly found it food for more thought in a lot of ways as I continued on up to my rural, Bruce Peninsula home. Like, how often do we consumers, think about the process that gets food products that were once living animals to store meat counters and shelves? How much do we know about the creatures we consume?

And this question too: what does it do to us to eat the flesh of an animal that has lived a brief and unhappy life in captivity, rarely if ever seeing the light of day, and then dies a traumatic and terrifying death? How does that impact our physical, mental, and even spiritual life? I don’t know. Does anybody? Has anyone even asked the question?

I agree with the increasing number of people in the world who believe animals are like us, “sentient beings,” with awarness, feelings and intelligence. They’re not “dumb animals.”

Indigenous cultures throughout the world have known that since time immemorial. Hebrew Kosher and Muslim Halal rules stress humane treatment of animals, and a manner of slaughter that above all avoids subjecting them to a cruel, stressful death.

Coincidentally this week, I came across a study published early this year in the scientific journal, Animal Cognition, about the surprising intelligence of domestic chickens. The author, Lori Marino, found Chickens, like many other birds, are more intelligence than previously thought.

“My overall conclusion is that chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas,” and well-worth more study, Marino wrote.

“Chickens have the capacity to reason and make logical inferences. For example, (they) are capable of simple forms of transitive inference, a capability that humans develop at approximately the age of seven,” she concluded, among other things, like this:

“Chickens have complex negative and positive emotions, as well as a shared psychology with humans” and other behaviourly complex animals. They exhibit emotional sharing and “some evidence for empathy.”

Marino is the Founder and Executive Director of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She was formerly a Senior Lecturer at Emory University in Atlanta for 19 years and Faculty Affiliate at the Emory Center for Ethics.

There was a time when Canadians were mainly a people with a close connection to the land and nature, as farmers, hunters, gatherers, and fishers. Many people developed a respectful, affectionate relationship with the animals they used for help, or raised to be food – for themselves and others.

But most Canadians are now city dwellers with, I think it’s fair to say, little if any first-hand experience or understanding of how the meat they consume is raised and, yes, killed.

That somehow needs to change, for their sake, as well as the animals’.

After I got home from the trip to Owen Sound that day earlier this week I went on-line to check out the latest news of the day, including the alleged animal abuse in B.C. The company directly involved, Elite Farm Services of Chilliwack, had fired six employees, including a supervisor, had been fired.

I looked at the hidden-camera video. Or I should say, I tried to. At a certain point I had to turn away. I couldn’t watch any more. I had seen enough.

I went downstairs and put the package of fresh chicken in the freezer for the time being. I don’t know when, or if I’ll eat it.

I may go looking for a place to buy free-range chicken from a real farmer who raises his or her own chickens and takes them to a trustedand other similarly-raised animal meat, for that matter.

Or maybe I’ll become a vegetarian, living off the produce growing in my own garden as much as possible. Beans, potatoes, corn, squash, tomatoes, strawberries now in blossom, lettuce and other greens – sounds like a pretty balanced diet to me.


A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in June, 2017


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