As PETA's campaign heats up, KFC is attempting to spin the issue as a matter of "he said, she said," when in fact, it is not. Here are KFC's claims and the facts (KFC's claims are taken directly from the company's Web site).
KFC's Claim: "Yum! Brands formed the KFC Animal Welfare Advisory Council, which consists of highly regarded experts in the field. The Council provides us with information and advice based on relevant data and scientific research. The Animal Welfare Advisory Council has been a key factor in formulating our animal welfare program."
The Reality: Although this council repeatedly gave its "advice based on relevant data and scientific research" to KFC for almost four years—and told the company that it needed to improve conditions—KFC refused to move on a single one of its points. In March 2005, during negotiations between PETA and KFC, the council put together recommendations that it thought would satisfy both PETA and KFC. But KFC refused to require any meaningful changes from its suppliers. Subsequently, five members of the council resigned.
Adele Douglass, a former member of the council, told the Chicago Tribune that KFC "never had any meetings. They never asked any advice, and then they touted to the press that they had this animal-welfare advisory committee. I felt like I was being used." Dr. Ian Duncan, another former member and North America's leading scientific expert on bird welfare, told the Guelph Mercury that "[p]rogress was extremely slow, which is why I resigned. It was always going to be happening later. They just put off actually creating standards. … I suspect that upper management didn't really think that animal welfare was important."
Now, KFC's council includes executives of its chicken suppliers, including a senior vice president for Pilgrim's Pride, which is where workers were found stomping on live birds, spitting tobacco into their eyes, and spray-painting their faces. It also includes a director for Tyson Foods, which slaughters billions of chickens annually and was also found during an investigation to be mutilating live birds.
KFC's Claim: "Our suppliers work with primary breeders who provide poultry specifically selected with health and well being in mind."
The Reality: Chickens are bred and drugged to grow so large that they can barely walk. In 2007, Tyson, one of KFC's main suppliers, was forced to amend labels that read, "Raised Without Antibiotics" after the USDA discovered ionophores, which are drugs used to prevent intestinal parasites and increase body weight, in the chickens' food. These and other kinds of growth-promoting drugs, coupled with selective breeding, cause chickens to gain the most amount of weight possible in the least amount of time. These overgrown birds suffer painful, crippling diseases and injuries, such as broken legs, heart attacks, and lung failure.
KFC's Claim: "KFC suppliers, KFC and the National Chicken Council have standards for stocking density to ensure birds have sufficient space and are healthy. … The cleanliness of these facilities and the health of the birds are top priorities for the farmers."
The Reality: The poultry industry deals primarily in volume, so chickens are raised in sheds on the same litter throughout their entire lives and in as large a number and as little space as possible. Typically, feces and urine are not cleaned out during the chickens' lifetimes. Instead, the sheds are only cleaned when the birds are sent to slaughter. It is common for 20,000 (or more) chickens to be confined to each shed with only 130 square inches of space per bird (or less), about the size of a sheet of legal paper. Studies have found that increased crowding leads to increased difficulty in walking because of leg deformities and improper development. Severe crowding with no change in litter also causes high levels of excrement and ammonia fumes, which burn birds' skin, as well as dusty air, which can cause a host of health problems.
KFC's Claim: "Because the welfare of the chickens raised for consumption is a top priority for suppliers, tremendous care is taken to ensure the health and safety of these birds during handling and transportation."
The Reality: The suffering that chickens endure in growing sheds continues as they are gathered and then transported to the slaughterhouses. The most common method of gathering chickens for transport is for workers to grab birds by their legs and stuff or throw them into transport crates. This is often done quickly and carelessly. In the gathering process, many chickens suffer broken bones and internal hemorrhaging. The chickens are then transported in multitiered trucks, often with 6,000 to 9,000 birds per truck, where they are exposed to all forms of inclement and extreme weather. A significant number of these chickens do not survive transport; they die from hypothermia, hyperthermia, or heart failure.
KFC's Claim: "Prior to slaughter, birds are stunned so they are insensible to pain. … Chickens are stunned and killed before they are introduced into the defeathering tanks."
The Reality: All chickens killed by KFC suppliers are conscious when their throats are cut. The electrified bath only renders birds immobile, not unconscious or insensible to pain. In many cases, the voltage in the water bath is too low, giving birds painful shocks and failing to cause immobility. These birds attempt to avoid the killing machine, which can result in severe mutilation or in the birds' missing the blade completely, meaning they are conscious when they are sent into the scalding tank. The USDA reports that nearly 3 million chickens every year are scalded alive.
KFC's Claim: "KFC suppliers are required to adhere to all laws related to the slaughter of chickens."
The Reality: It's easy to follow the rules when there are no rules. Farmed animals are not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act, and chickens are not covered by the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Thus, KFC suppliers can use farming practices that are inhumane to chickens without fear of criminal prosecution and can claim that they operate in compliance with the law.