Stick up for Chickens, U.S. Animal Activists Say
LOS ANGELES Animal welfare groups are using the expected arrival of bird flu in the United States to step up long-running campaigns against large chicken and egg factory farms and persuade more Americans to stop eating meat.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Thursday it will launch a billboard next week in Arkansas, home of poultry giant Tyson Foods, featuring a person dressed in a chicken costume and brandishing a machine gun with the slogan "Payback Time! Birdflu Kills. Go Vegetarian."
"If you cram 50,000 birds into a shed, breed them and drug them so they can barely walk, and coop them up in their excrement, that's begging bird flu to come here," said PETA spokesman Bruce Friedrich.
"Anything that focuses some attention on just how horribly chickens and turkeys especially are treated by the meat industry is going to increase the number of vegetarians," Friedrich said.
The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has swept through Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 2003 and is widely expected to reach the United States sometime this year.
At least 127 people have died, almost all through direct contact with infected birds. But experts fear it could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted from person to person.
Animal rights groups say the global poultry industry is the root cause of the bird flu crisis and other virulent viruses. They say cramped factory conditions, chicken manure and animal feed encourage the spread of infections in chicken houses and in the air.
The National Chicken Council, which represents 95 percent of U.S. commercial chicken producers, has mounted its own public relations campaign. It says the H5N1 virus cannot be contracted by humans by eating cooked chicken and its members are already testing flocks before they go to market and enter the food chain.
Spokesman Richard Lobb said that in Thailand, modern factory flocks did not acquire the avian virus whereas village chickens which run free got it from wild birds. "So I think the animal rights group arguments in that respect are completely invalid," he said.
Said Kim Sturla, who runs the Animal Place sanctuary in northern California: "Most of us who are working on behalf of animals want to take the avian influenza virus as an example to point to the horrendous conditions under which these animals are raised."
"For me, it is an opportunity to educate people about where their food comes from. But changing behavior is a slow process. Few people go veggie overnight," Sturla said.
United Poultry Concerns, which has 12,000 members, has launched a "Bird Flu: Fowl Play?" billboard as Americans wake up to the possibility of bird flu hitting U.S. soil.
"Stick up for chickens, don't eat animals, go vegan, and tell the world why," said Karen Davis, president of the group.