Despite their remarkable mental acumen, almost all of the chickens used in the meat industry are forced to suffer enormously. They've been genetically selected for extremely rapid growth which -- exacerbated by routine antibiotic use for growth promotion -- takes an enormous toll on the birds' welfare. These animals are prisoners in their own bodies; they've been bred to suffer.
Animal science expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D., sums it up bluntly: "Today's poultry chicken has been bred to grow so rapidly that its legs can collapse under the weight of its ballooning body. It's awful."
Awful indeed. And so is our mocking of both of these birds' mental acuity, which represents a side of our behavior that calls into question our intelligence, not theirs.
While chickens are unlikely to go the way of the dodo any time soon, that's not because we respect them any more than we respected dodos. Instead, our extraordinarily high meat consumption levels mean we'll keep breeding them by the billions to ensure they have a place on our dinner plates.
Perhaps as our understanding of these birds' complex abilities continues to grow, our willingness to allow the factory farming industry to subject them to a lifetime of suffering may accordingly shrink. Eating less meat, and specifically less chicken, will reduce animal suffering, decrease support for industrial factory farms, and increase the value we place on farmers who adhere to higher animal welfare standards.
In her exhaustive work on the development of the chicken brain, Lesley Rogers, Ph.D., a professor and author on animal behavior, concludes: "With increased knowledge of the behavior and cognitive abilities of the chicken has come the realization that the chicken is not an inferior species to be treated merely as a food source."
Now that's a smart thing to say.