Israeli researcher Avigdor Cahaner announced this month that he used selective breeding to produce a featherless chicken. Cahaner claimed the chicken would have several advantages to breeds currently used for food, while animal rights activists countered that this was a case of “sick science.”
Cahaner produced his chicken by cross-breeding a boiler chicken with another breed that has a naturally bare neck. The result was a feather-free chicken.
On the one hand, the chicken would grow faster and would be somewhat more environmentally friendly since farmers would not have to deal with plucking and disposing of feathers. On the other hand, featherless chickens tend to be more susceptible to parasites and other problems and, in previous attempts to create featherless chickens, the males have been unable to mate.
Of course to animal rights activists, it is just wrong to try to improve chicken breeds at all. Joyce D’Silva of Compassion in World Farming told New Scientist,
It’s a prime example of sick science and the suggestion that it would be an improvement for developing countries is obscene.
Factory farming is such an inappropriate technology for developing countries because it uses scarce resources like water, electricity and grain that could be used for human consumption, to produce meat that only the middle classes can afford.
Of course, water, electricity and grain are usually in short supply in the developing world not due to factory farming but rather to the gross mismanagement by governments and other institutions in the developing world.
Featherless chicken creates a flap. Emma Young, The New Scientist, May 21, 2002.
Bald chicken ‘needs no plucking’. The BBC, May 21, 2002.