There’s a plan going around farming circles to breed ‘headless’ chickens.
The idea is to remove the cerebral cortex of the chicken while keeping the body alive through an arterial system that pumps food, water, and oxygen through the ‘living meat’ and pumps waste directly out of its digestive tract. The brain stem of the chicken is left intact to continue to regulate the metabolic systems involved in muscle growth, but the chicken is blind, unconscious, and has no sensory perceptions.
The chickens are oblivious to their surroundings and feel no pain. Unnecessary body parts like beaks and feet and wing tips can be trimmed off to save on space, and the birds can be densely packed and stacked like firewood. The ‘farms’ would make good neighbors even in urban and suburban areas because the chickens are completely silent, sanitary, and odor-free with all of the messy in- and outflows contained in tubes and tanks.
Is it humane to farm the unconscious?
Consider the current state of animal welfare.
Billions of chickens—fully 99% of the 7+ billion raised each year in this country—are currently living the entirety of their miserable lives in confinement. They’re crammed together in filthy sheds and cages where hundreds of millions of them have broken limbs and can die from stress and dehydration, unable to reach the water nozzles, and another hundred million are deemed unfit for meat and are tossed into bags to suffocate or ground up alive.
These are social animals with the intelligence of cats, dogs, and even some primates. Yet there are no federal regulations governing chicken welfare, and except for cockfighting prohibitions, they’re ignored by most states. Chickens are even excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act that protects every other land animal.
Is ‘headless’ chicken production an act of humanity?
The blind, footless, lobotomized chickens are no longer sentient beings. They’re merely an agricultural crop like vegetables that we ready for harvest. Proponents argue that removing the chickens’ higher cognitive abilities is a kindness in an agricultural system that currently disregards them.
The Chicken Matrix?
There are obvious comparisons to The Matrix. In the movie, humans are kept alive in power plants where their brains are plugged into a simulated reality while their bodies are being harvested for bioelectrical energy to power the machines that dominate the Earth. A few rebels are given a choice: a blue pill allows them to stay in the safety and comfort of the simulation while a red pill releases their brains into the harsh, post-apocalyptic reality of the physical world. The hero Neo opts to live and die authentically, but the choice is not so clear-cut. The rebel Cypher regrets the trade-off telling the leader Morpheus: If you’d told us the truth, we would’ve told you to shove that red pill right up your ass.
While chickens might not suffer from the existential crises of free will, they also don’t exist in a world of red and blue pills. We don’t provide adequate welfare for agricultural animals, but it doesn’t mean we can’t. Ignorance for chickens might be more blissful than the current horrors of factory farming, but it’s not a kindness.
Our dominion over animals means we bear a responsibility to care for them humanely. It means stewardship, not exploitation. ‘Headless’ chicken production tries to circumvent that responsibility by rendering compassion irrelevant to the process. In doing so, it diminishes our humanity.