Tag Archives: chicken

CRISPR could save billions of male chicks every year. Here’s how

Every year, around 7 billion male chicks are culled, often on a macerator on a conveyor belt. It’s an ugly practice, but the industry can’t get around it — in modern-day poultry farming, ‬the layer males are useless:‬ they cannot grow up to lay eggs ‬and they’re not fast-growing breeds that can be sold as poultry‭.

It’s not just cruel, the practice is also expensive: hatcheries spend around $1 billion year incubating and dispoising of the male chicks. If there was a way to get rid of this problem, the industry would no doubt adopt it — and such a solution might be just around the corner.

Counting your chickens before they hatch

The goal is pretty straightforward: find a way to separate the male chicks before they hatch, and you wouldn’t need to slaughter them a few days later. But how do you go about it? As Timothy Kurt, a director from the United States Department of Agriculture, put it, “Everyone wants the same thing, and the right piece of technology could solve this right now.”

An approach would be to measure the eggs (through some form of imaging or chemical tests) and determine a chick’s sex before hatching. Another option, potentially even more appealing, is genetic engineering to make male eggs fluorescent.

Pioneering research from the Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) showed that an innovative solution involving lasers can work. The idea is to use revolutionary “genetic scissors” known as CRISPR and create a glowing egg. By shining a laser on the egg, they can reveal the sex of a chicken on the same day it’s laid, which is more efficient than waiting a few days.

Another company working on the problem, eggXYt, came up with a similar CRISPR approach that allows imaging the eggs before they hatch. They believe the practice is not just humane, but also cost effective.

“The beauty of eggXYt’s solution is that it is addressing an animal welfare crisis while creating value for the egg industry,” a press representative tells me. “eggXYt’s solution gives hatcheries a way to identify the sex of the chick before incubation, thereby allowing them to save on all of these costs. In addition to the cost savings, we’re also creating two new revenue streams for hatcheries. The first is from the sale of unincubated male eggs, which can be used in a host of industries that already use eggs in their production (such as cosmetics, tannery, glue, and pharma).”

“We also believe that “chick culling free” eggs will be sold for a premium at supermarkets (similar to cage free and organic eggs today). These premiums will be passed up the value chain as well,” the company repreentative added.

The idea seems like a win-win for all parties involved, and there is some political traction for it as well. The United Egg Producers, a U.S. cooperative, says it wants to be cull-free by 2020, and the German government has said it will outlaw the practice. But there’s a serious problem with this: it means adding a gene-edited organism into our food chain.

Public opposition against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is not a mystery to anyone. Despite scientific evidence which claims that GMOs can be safe and healthy, the mere mention of eating a GMO would

But Mark Tizard, a geneticist at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, who is also working on the technology, told Science that consumers in North America and Australia might accept it. The key is that they wouldn’t actually be eating the genetically modified organisms: the CRISPR technology would only affect the male chicks, and neither the layer hens nor the eggs sold for consumption would contain modified genes.

Several other approaches are used. For instance, one study in Turkey attempted to differentiate between male and female eggs based on their shape, but results are still not entirely clear. A genetic approach would be elegant and efficient, but whether it will ultimately become acceptable is a different story.

Consumers also have historically low confidence in the meat industry, in large part due to its history of hiding its more unglamorous aspects, which could be a factor. Ultimately though, consumers will have a choice between accepting a genetic technology or continuing to condemn billions of male chicks.

The people at eggXYt seem confident in the technology’s potential to transform the industry. It’s already happening, they explain.

“We have formed strong partnerships with industry-leading companies to make our technology globally available and work is underway. This value creation model creates strong financial incentives for the industry to adopt our solution, in addition to the clear animal welfare benefits. “

For now, the jury is out.

You shoulnd't stay too close to a rooster if you care about your hearing. Credit: Pixabay.

A rooster’s crow is as loud as a jet taking off 15 meters away. Here’s why it doesn’t go deaf

You shoulnd't stay too close to a rooster if you care about your hearing. Credit: Pixabay.

You shoulnd’t stay too close to a rooster if you care about your hearing. Credit: Pixabay.

There’s a reason roosters have been favored as natural alarm clocks ever since people first became farmers. Even before the light of dawn, raucous roosters sound the alarm, waking up every living thing around with their clamorous crow. Belgian researchers actually found that a rooster’s crow averages more than 130 decibels for 1-2 seconds, which is about as intense as standing 15 meters away from a jet taking off. One of the three studied roosters was recorded crowing at more than 143 decibels, which is like standing in the middle of an aircraft carrier with jets whizzing by.

Self-defense

Previous research conducted by Japanese researchers led by Takashi Yoshimura found that roosters love to crow in the morning because it’s primarily about announcing territory and where a particular rooster sees itself on the pecking order. Experiments revealed that the most dominant rooster was the one who would start the crowing off, which begins around two hours before first light. The birds must have an internal body clock that tells them when to crow — and very loudly we have to add — the researchers concluded.

All things considered, why doesn’t the rooster go deaf from its own clamor? According to the researchers from the University of Antwerp and the University of Brussels, half the rooster’s eardrum is covered in soft tissue that insulates it from the racket. Additionally, a quarter of the ear canal completely closes during crowing, as reported in the journal Zoology. This is quite convenient for the rooster but doesn’t do much for all other nearby creatures with a decent pair of ears.

The researchers came to this conclusion after performing micro-computerized tomography scans which rendered 3-D images of the birds’ skulls.

What this means is that a rooster can’t actually hear the full intensity of its own crows, which might explain why they’re so annoyingly loud. But even though the intensity of a rooster’s crow diminishes with distance, one can only wonder why nature would evolve such an ability that risks deafening a nest, hens and chicks included.

[ALSO READ] How we hear and other eary functions

Bird biology offers some clues. Unlike mammals, birds (along with reptiles and fish) can regenerate the hair cells of the inner ear if they are damaged. Unfortunately, all sensorineural hearing loss is permanent in mammals, which includes humans, since the hair cells in the cochlea don’t grow back. Some scientists, however, are attentively studying the hair cell regeneration process in chickens in the hope of curing hearing loss in human subjects in future. Until that happens, don’t stay too close to roosters.

chicken.

Medieval Christian monks may have sped up the evolution of the modern chicken

Chickens, the world’s most numerous livestock, provide food and money for hundreds of millions of people. It’s believed this fruitful relationship, obviously for the patron — us humans — first appeared some 6,000 years ago when we domesticated the first red jungle fowls in Asia. It took a while, though, before chickens become very proficient and efficient egg laying animals. According to a new study, the genes that essentially made way for the modern chicken were selected less than 1,200 years ago. Interestingly, these ‘super’ domesticated chickens may have been bred as a result of Christian fasting traditions.

chicken.

Credit: Pixabay.

To learn when and how the modern chicken made friends with human breeders, an international team of researchers looked at data gathered by previous studies. This includes data on specific gene variants that look like they appeared as a result of selective evolutionary pressure. For instance, the chicken’s thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor (TSHR) has been previously identified to enable faster egg-laying and to reduce the aggressivity of the animal.

According to archaeological evidence, chicken bones started to dramatically increase in volume from the 9th century C.E. onwards. Knowing this, the researchers developed a new mathematical model that could pinpoint in time when the traits that make the chicken such an important livestock started to increase in frequency in Europe.

From about 920 CE, selection for the TSHR variant began to be widespread. Around this time, only 40% of the chicken were estimated to have this gene variant but by 1100 C.E., virtually 100% of all chickens had the TSHR. It’s no coincidence that this timeline overlaps with a huge jump in urbanization but also a period when Christian edicts enforced fasting and the exclusion of four-legged animals from the diet. Chickens were obviously exempted from this rule, as was their meat and eggs. Their small size and easy maintenance also made them ideal livestock in crowded urban or sub-urban environments.

“We cannot say which one of these was most important but most likely a combination of all these factors affected selective pressures on European chickens and consequently their evolution.” Says author Anders Eriksson.

“Several independent archaeological studies have documented substantial increases in the frequency of chicken remains between the 9th and 12th centuries AD, as well as a shift towards the management of adult hens, presumably to increase egg production.” said Mark Thomas, an author on the study. “Intriguingly, this is the period when selection on the TSHR variant most likely kicked off”.

The study is remarkable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it shows just how much of an impact and how easy it is for humans to drive a trait. Really, two centuries is like the blink of an eye on an evolutionary timescale. Secondly, it shows how important human customs and traditions are in shaping the crops, plants, and animals that we breed. The findings published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.also show “that simply because a domestic trait is ubiquitous, it may not have been a target for selection at the very beginning of the domestication process”, says Greger Larson, who led the research team.

DNA tests reveal that Subway’s chicken only has 50% chicken

An investigative Canadian TV program revealed that the chicken from Subway sandwiches only contain about 50% chicken.

Subway – not exactly rocket chicken… or something like that. Image credits: JeepersMedia

Chicken? Where?

According to the Canadian study, Subway’s Oven Roasted Chicken patties averaged 53.6 percent chicken DNA while the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki strips come in at 42.8 percent. The rest of it was soy, ironically making the sandwiches more eco-friendly. The fast-food company has challenged these statements, with a spokesman calling them “absolutely false” and calling for a retraction.

The tests were conducted by a DNA researcher at Trent University’s Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory and were presented during a CBC Marketplace episode dedicated to fast food chicken. They haven’t been independently confirmed, nor have they been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The episode also analyzed dishes from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, A&W and Tim Horton’s restaurants in Canada. All of these had at least 80% chicken, which is not particularly surprising. The meat was tested without any condiments or sauces but marinating and seasoning would bring any sample below 100%.

The program contacted all the food chains discussed and received pretty similar responses: our chicken was 100% chicken, we can’t tell you everything we put in it because that’s our secret, but it’s definitely good chicken — yada yada. For instance, a Wendy’s spokesperson said:

“Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich is a whole muscle chicken breast fillet; not reformed or restructured. In addition, we use only 100% Canadian chicken in Canada. For our grilled chicken sandwich and other grilled chicken products (salads, wraps, etc.) we use a juicy, all-white meat chicken breast fillet, marinated in a blend of herbs. We do not provide ingredient percentages as we consider that information to be proprietary.”

Similarly, McDonalds praised their product and said it’s 100% chicken:

“Our grilled chicken sandwich is made with 100% seasoned chicken breast. The chicken breast is (a single piece) trimmed for size to fit the sandwich. We don’t release the percentage of each ingredient for competitive reasons, but on the nutrition centre people can see that our grilled chicken includes seasoning and other ingredients, just like at home.”

Subway, on the other hand, was a clear outlier. Initially, after it was revealed that their products had little more than half what they should have, they said they will “look into this” and verify their supplies. After a while, they came back with a strong reply, rejecting the CBC’s accusations.

“The accusations made by CBC Marketplace about the content of our chicken are absolutely false and misleading. Our chicken is 100% white meat with seasonings, marinated and delivered to our stores as a finished, cooked product,” the spokesman said in a statement sent to NPR. “We have advised them of our strong objections. We do not know how they produced such unreliable and factually incorrect data, but we are insisting on a full retraction.”

A broader problem

I expect more fast-food chicken studies to emerge in the near future, hopefully settling this problem one way or another. But the CBC study raised an even more stringent problem: the lack of adequate nutrition in fast foods.

I guess no one really expected fast food chicken to be healthy, but it’s surprising to see just how little nutritional value fast food chicken has: “about a quarter less protein” than home-cooked chicken, and sodium levels “seven to 10 times what they would be in a piece of unadulterated chicken.” Basically, it’s a much, much worse chicken than what you’d generally find in supermarkets — let alone on a farm.

“People think they’re doing themselves a favor and making themselves a healthy choice” by picking chicken, a nutritionist told the CBC. “But from a sodium perspective, you might as well eat a big portion of poutine” — the infamous Canadian dish which includes french fries, gravy, and cheese curds.

At the end of the day, you’re much better off avoiding fast foods altogether.

chicken

Why undercooked chicken meat can cause paralysis

chicken

Credit: Pixabay

For some unfortunate people, poorly cooked chicken meat can lead to things far worse than indigestion or food poisoning. A common bacteria inside the chicken can cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or GBS, which can lead to neuromuscular paralysis. Now, scientists say they’ve learned why some people become paralyzed — a bad stroke of luck from having certain genes.

“What our work has told us is that it takes a certain genetic makeup combined with a certain Campylobacter strain to cause this disease,” says Linda Mansfield, lead author and a professor at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in a statement. “The concerning thing is that many of these strains are resistant to antibiotics and our work shows that treatment with some antibiotics could actually make the disease worse.”

Mansfield and colleagues made three preclinical models of GBS which offer a unique glimpse into how genetics can influence the various forms of GBS, caused by the Campylobacter jejuni bacteria.

In the first couple of weeks, those suffering GBS will not think much of their condition. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, but while these can be distressing there are literally hundreds of health problems that can cause them. For instance, most people with GBS confess they thought they had been food poisoned. Three weeks after the onset of the disease, however, characteristic GBS symptoms start showing, like weakness and tingling in the feet and legs. Gradually, paralysis spreads to the upper body and arms. In extreme cases, breathing can be interrupted.

GBS is the world’s leading cause of acute neuromuscular paralysis in humans and infects people who eat chicken which isn’t cooked properly, i.e. the internal temperature is not enough to destroy the Campylobacter j. bacteria.

Before you get overly zealous with tonight’s dinner, you might want to learn that the Michigan State University researchers have found you need a certain genetic makeup to get GBS, as reported in the  Journal of Autoimmunity. That’s good news since the risk is very low.

The bad news, courtesy of the same research, is that it seems antibiotics don’t seem to work against the bacteria once it infects its host. Moreover, antibiotics can make things worse in the body. Mansfield says antibiotics aggravated neurological signs, lesions, and the number of immune antibodies that can mistakenly attack a patient’s own organs and tissues.

That’s not to say, however, that there isn’t a chance for treatment. Campylobacter jejuni infects more than a million people yearly in the United States and is also known to trigger other autoimmune disorders such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Reiter’s arthritis. In the case of GBS, Mansfield hopes to develop drugs that prevent paralysis, preferably preventive ones.

“These models hold great potential for discovery of new treatments for this paralysis,” Mansfield said. “Many patients with GBS are critically ill and they can’t participate in clinical trials. The models we identified can help solve this.”

“Of course new treatments would be wonderful,” she said, “but therapeutics to prevent GBS from developing in the first place would be the best strategy so that people don’t have to suffer with paralysis.”

Need to ward off pesky mosquitoes? Sleep with a chicken over your head

A new study found that a weapon against mosquitoes could be forged from the unlikeliest of sources: the humble chicken. The findings suggest that these insects find fowl smell quite foul, a potential starting point for new repellents to be used against them.

Want to ward off malaria, or the Zika outbreak? Sleep with a chicken over your head.

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?
Image credits lushtk0/pixabay

By this point some of you are no doubt skeptical — and I can’t blame you. That sounds more like the ramblings of a witch in a medieval village than sound medial advice. But surprisingly enough, a study by Swedish and Ethiopian scientists found that mosquitoes avoid homes which contained a live chicken suspended in a cage. Interestingly enough, they don’t even have to see the chicken — one whiff of the birds’ smell is enough to make them turn tail and run.

“We were surprised to find that malaria mosquitoes are repelled by the odors emitted by chickens,” said Professor Richard Ignell, of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

“This study shows for the first time that malaria mosquitoes actively avoid feeding on certain animal species, and that this behavior is regulated through odor cues.”

The researchers suspect that mosquitoes have evolved to avoid chickens because these birds pray on them, and their blood isn’t nutritious enough to justify the risk of biting them. They instinctively avoid the fowl’s “odor bubble,” no matter how hungry. The researchers found that most mosquitoes won’t even enter a house with a chicken in it, let alone a single room. Just in case sleeping with chickens caged above your face isn’t your thing (but let’s be honest, how could it not?) they’ve isolated the chemical compounds that scare off the mosquitoes and are now planning to develop them into a repellent.

“The difference between this repellent and ones on the market is it acts on a very large scale. Most repellents only work after a mosquito lands on you but we know that this can cut populations by up to 95 per cent throughout an entire house, so it’s very efficient,” Ignell added.

“[The repellent] really creates an odour bubble which stops the mosquitos coming near, so it can stop the spread of malaria.”

This has the potential to be huge. Mosquitoes are responsible for spreading terrible diseases such as malaria and the Zika virus, which causes mothers to give births to children with drastic abnormalities, such as microcephaly. Zika was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organisation earlier this year and more than 50 countries have confirmed outbreaks. Finding an efficient way to protect people from mosquito bites and the spread of these diseases could save some of the 3.2 billion people at risk of malaria.

“People in sub-Saharan Africa have suffered considerably under the burden of malaria over an extended period of time and mosquitoes are becoming increasingly physiologically resistant to pesticides, while also changing their feeding habits for example by moving from indoors to outdoors.

“For this reason there is a need to develop novel control methods. In our study, we have been able to identify a number of natural odour compounds which could repel host-seeking malaria mosquitoes and prevent them from getting in contact with people.”

For the study, the researchers collected data on the population of human and domestic animals in three Ethiopian villages, with help from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. In these areas, people still share their living space with livestock, and the researchers found that Anopheles arabiensis, one of the prime transmitters of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, avoids chickens both inside and outdoors.

The team determined which chemical compounds were present only in chicken feathers and then tested them by placing samples in traps in 11 homesteads. A single volunteer aged between 27 and 36 years slept in each of the houses under an untreated bed net – and traps were positioned in the room to count the number of mosquitoes that flew in. Significantly fewer mosquitoes were caught in traps baited with chicken compounds than in control traps. Volunteers also slept in mosquito-net covered beds (just to make sure they weren’t bit) but found that suspending a chicken outside the bed sent the insects running.

Volunteers slept in beds surrounded by mosquito nets. They found that the insects steered clear of their room when a cage containing a live chicken (pictured right), or its feathers, was suspended outside the bed. A control experiment set-up is shown left.
Image provided by authors / Jaleta et al, Malaria Journal

The main mosquito species that transmits Zika is Aedes aegypti and laboratory tests have shown that it much prefers feeding on humans and dogs, although will occasionally bite chickens if they are restrained. Asked if the repellent could work to prevent Zika, Ignell said:

“I think it should. We haven’t tested it on other mosquitos but there are lots of varieties which won’t feed on chickens and so would be repelled.”

The full paper, titled “Chicken volatiles repel host-seeking malaria mosquitoes” has been published online in the Malaria Journal.

US egg farmers to stop grinding male chicks alive by 2020

Millions of one-day-old chicks are killed every day, either through mechanical grinding or by their spinal cords being severed. Now, at least in the US, that’s all about to change thanks to a new technology.

Male chicken are culled by the millions every day. Image via Wikipedia.

Egg farms have two major targets: to produce eggs, and to produce hens that lay eggs. Male chickens aren’t needed in either, so they are “discarded” – killed, often in a brutal fashion.

Most of the time, male chickens are culled through a process called maceration, in which the chicken are killed in a large high-speed grinder. The process is considered inhumane and has been opposed by many scientists and environmentalists.

“Egg layers are bred to be egg laying machines who can pump out hundreds of eggs each year,” David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League told The Huffington Post in an email. “They’re expected to live for approximately one year, typically confined to a tiny cage. On the other hand, broilers are bred to be grotesquely large, growing to a huge size within one month — this is like having a toddler that weighs hundreds of pounds — when they are slaughtered. This leaves the male laying breed as the odd man out — too small to be really profitable to raise for meat and unable to lay eggs.”

But now, United Egg Producers, which represents 95% of egg producers in America has announced that it plans to “eliminate the culling of male chicks at egg laying hen hatcheries by 2020”.

The new technology is called ovo-sexing and will determine the sex of the chicken while they are still an embryo. Instead of hatching and then being killed, the eggs will instead be used in the egg supply chain for use in vaccinations or pet food.

Referring to the decision as “historic” Coman-Hidy said:

“We are proud to have played such a pivotal role in doing away with this barbaric convention and to help pave the way to a more humane future. It is clear that chick culling will soon be a thing of the past in the United States.”

But while this will save millions of chicken lives, it’s just the first step in a very long road. Surviving hens still live miserable lives, trapped in cages so small the animals can barely move. “Cage-free” eggs are starting to become a thing, but most people are still unaware of this, or don’t care enough to start supporting the change. Coman-Hidy is optimistic, though.

“It’s an indicator that society is coming to recognize that farmed animals have lives, they feel pain and that they matter,” he said.

 

This diagram depicts the spatial distribution of the five types of light-sensitive cells known as cones in the chicken retina. (c) Washington University in St. Louis

Weird state of matter found in chicken’s eye

You may not find many interesting things to see when glaring into a chicken’s eye, but after closely studying its retina researchers at Washington University have come across a most fascinating discovery. It seems chicken eyes bear a never before seen state of matter in biology, an arrangement of particles that is both ordered and disordered – neither crystal, nor liquid. This state is called “disordered hyperuniformity”  and could only previously be found in non-biological systems , like liquid helium or simple plasmas.

Typically, the retina is comprised of several layers, but only the cones and rods are photosensitive allowing us to see and visually sense our surroundings. In the eye of a chicken, like many other bird species, the retina is comprised of five different types of cones – violet, blue, green and red, while the fifth is responsible for sensing light level variance. Most importantly, however, each type of cone is of a different size.

This diagram depicts the spatial distribution of the five types of light-sensitive cells known as cones in the chicken retina. (c) Washington University in St. Louis

This diagram depicts the spatial distribution of the five types of light-sensitive cells known as cones in the chicken retina. (c) Washington University in St. Louis

Most animal species have their cones arranged around an orderly pattern. Insects for instance have their cones arranged in a hexagon pattern. Those of a chicken, however, seem to be in complete disarray. At first, if one didn’t know better, you might think that they shouldn’t be able to see anything. Upon closer inspection, the shroud was lifted and most peculiar discovery was made.

After making a computer model, the scientists found that the arrangement of chicken cones is particularly tidy. Each cone has a so-called exclusion area that blocks other cones of the same type from straying too close, but this means each individual cone has its own uniform arrangement. At the same time, the five different patterns of the five different cone types are layered on top of each other in a disorderly way as opposed to the orderly structure found in other species’ eyes.

“Because the cones are of different sizes it’s not easy for the system to go into a crystal or ordered state,” study researcher Salvatore Torquato, a professor of chemistry at Princeton University, explained in a statement. “The system is frustrated from finding what might be the optimal solution, which would be the typical ordered arrangement. While the pattern must be disordered, it must also be as uniform as possible. Thus, disordered hyperuniformity is an excellent solution.”

Simply put, systems like the arrangement of chicken cones or liquid helium act both at the same time like crystals, keeping the density of particles consistent across large volumes, and liquids, having the same physical properties in all directions. This is the first time, however, that disordered hyperuniformity  has been observed in a biological system.

Their findings were detailed on Feb. 24 in the journal Physical Review E.

 

The chicken came before the egg – hen lays ‘eggless’ chick in Sri Lanka farm

The age-old question of who came first – the chicken or the egg – has been pondered countless times, and put great thinkers throughout history in a predicament. An oddity of nature which recently occurred on a Sri Lankan farm may offer clues towards answering the riddle. There a hen gave birth to a chick without an egg, which is normally formed and healthy, according to veterinarians.

Instead of laying the egg and incubating it in a nest, the egg was incubated inside the hen for 21 day and hatched inside the mother, which died from the internal wounds. A later examination showed that the fertilized egg had developed within the hen’s reproductive system but stayed inside the hen’s body until it hatched.

Two years ago, researchers  from Scotland and England used a supercomputer called HECToR to analyze in high detail a chicken eggshell and determined the vital role of a protein used to kick-start the egg’s formation – a protein only found in a chicken. The protein had been identified earlier by scientists and was known to be linked to egg formation, now described as a catalyst. At the time, this was deemed as a scientific proof that the chicken definitely came before the egg.

First heard on BBC.

Headless chicken solution

Headless chicken solution envisions Matrix-style farming

Headless chicken solution

Each year, billions of chickens are raised all over the world with the sole purpose of providing meat at the end of their couple of weeks-long lives. The animals are  forced to live in precarious conditions, thousands lined up next to each other, and are stuffed with nutrients designed to make them grow a lot faster than they can handle, often leading their hearts or lungs to fail before they even get to meet the hatchet. A lot of ethical debate has been circulating around animal farming for decades now, activists arguing that it’s inhumane to treat any being to such suffering. Still, man’s gotta eat, right?

Architecture student André Ford has a solution which he believes will spare animals, doomed to be nothing more than living stacks of meat, of all their suffering – severing their frontal cortexes and, thus, effectively rendering them brain-dead. Still alive, yet unconscious, the chickens would be raised in vertical racks, leading to an increase in productivity from 1 chicken per 10 cubic feet to nearly 4 chickens in the same area.

Headless chicken solution

Completely immobile, suspended and with their feet cut-off, the chickens would be plugged to a tube directly connected to the esophagus, which feeds nutrients and water, while another carries the waste away. It all begins to resemble the Matrix scenario, all of a sudden, however instead of a alternate reality, the chickens are left to a pitch black consciousness. There isn’t any red or blue pill. There isn’t any choice, not that they had any in the first place. You see, Ford’s concept raises a myriad of ethical issues at hand, but how can you contest it without being a hypocrite?

Ford argues that his solution is no more shocking than existing food production techniques. “The realities of the existing systems of production are just as shocking,” he told Wired.co.uk, “but they are hidden behind the sentimental guise of traditional farming scenes that we as consumers hold in our minds and see on our food packaging.”

Headless chicken solution

While lobotomizing the chickens will certainly spare them of great suffering, the act itself is cruel. The concept is terribly disturbing, and if applied, it would surely be passed along to other livestock currently raised for meat, like pigs and cattle. This prospect alone is enough, for me at least, to ban such idea from fruition. It might actually spread to a real-life Matrix scenario in which humans, clones most certainly, are raised for body parts, organs and stem cells. There’s no such thing as a “small-compromise” – it always leads to another, and the lesser evil isn’t necessary the best solution.

It’s worth noting that the idea is still a concept, nothing of the sorts has been implemented and it’s likely it will never be. No actual chickens were harmed for this project or photo illustrations. Your thoughts are much appreciated on the issue and your invited to share them in comments section below this post, however, I beg you to be as objective as possible.

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