An investigator went under cover and brought back disturbing video from a farm growing those famous birds.
Probably like many of you, I think of Costco as an enlightened company exemplifying capitalism that works. One ranking listed it as the No. 1 company to work at in terms of pay and benefits — a prime example of a business that is both profitable and humane.
Unless, it turns out, you’re a chicken.
Rotisserie chickens selling for just $4.99 each are a Costco hallmark, both delicious and cheap. They are so popular they have their own Facebook page, and the company sells almost 100 million of them a year. But an animal rights group called Mercy for Animals recently sent an investigator under cover to work on a farm in Nebraska that produces millions of these chickens for Costco, and customers might lose their appetite if they saw inside a chicken barn.
“It’s dimly lit, with chicken poop all over,” said the worker, who also secretly shot video there. “It’s like a hot humid cloud of ammonia and poop mixed together.”
You may be thinking: Huh? People are dying in a pandemic. Donald Trump is facing a Senate impeachment trial. And we’re talking about chicken, er, poop?
Yet we must guard our moral compasses. And some day, I think, future generations will look back at our mistreatment of livestock and poultry with pain and bafflement. They will wonder how we in the early 21st century could have been so oblivious to the cruelties that delivered $4.99 chickens to a Costco rotisserie.
Torture a single chicken in your backyard, and you risk arrest. Abuse tens of millions of them? Why, that’s agribusiness.
It’s not that Costco chickens suffer more than Walmart or Safeway birds. All are part of an industrial agricultural system that, at the expense of animal well-being, has become extremely efficient at producing cheap protein.
When Herbert Hoover talked about putting “a chicken in every pot,” chicken was a luxury: In 1930, whole dressed chicken retailed in the United States for $7 a pound in today’s dollars. In contrast, that Costco bird now sells for less than $2 a pound.
Those commendable savings have been achieved in part by developing chickens that effectively are bred to suffer. Scientists have created what are sometimes called “exploding chickens” that put on weight at a monstrous clip, about six times as fast as chickens in 1925. The journal Poultry Science once calculated that if humans grew at the same rate as these chickens, a 2-month-old baby would weigh 660 pounds.
The chickens grow enormous breasts, because that’s the meat consumers want, so the birds’ legs sometimes splay or collapse. Some topple onto their backs and then can’t get up. Others spend so much time on their bellies that they sometimes suffer angry, bloody rashes called ammonia burns; these are a poultry version of bed sores.
“They’re living on their own feces, with no fresh air and no natural light,” said Leah Garcés, the president of Mercy for Animals. “I don’t think it’s what a Costco customer expects.”