Karen Davis Reviews Book on Chicken Slaughter Houses

United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis recently posted her review of Steve Striffler’s, Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food to AR-NEWS. Striffler’s book is published by Yale University Press and is an account of time he spent working at a slaughterhouse to research his book.

Davis is unhappy that Striffler focuses so much on the plight of the workers in the chicken plant rather than the chickens. Typical of Davis view is this account of her exchange with Striffler,

In his preface, which Striffler defended to me as “not [intended] to educate readers about the technical details of killing a chicken” (so it’s okay to bungle the facts?), he writes: “I do not feel sorry for Javier [a worker in the plant] or the chickens. I have worked in a plant before, and stabbing chickens is a relatively easy job. Many workers would be glad to trade places. And the chickens are there to die.”

Granted, a job where you get to sit on a stool and stick, as it were, “sitting ducks” for eight hours beats most other jobs at the plant, where the majority of workers, a third of them women, are forced to stand on their feet for eight hours and perform ruinous physical labor. As for invoking the fact that the chickens are “there to die” to justify lack of pity for them, ask yourself if this logic works regarding, say, terminal cancer-ward or nursing-home patients — “I don’t feel sorry for these people; they are here to die.”

The comparison of chickens for slaughter to nursing home patients might be shocking if Davis hadn’t previously compared victims of the Holocaust to Nazis or infamously maintained that the 9/11 attack likely reduced the level of suffering in the world because most of those killed were likely meat eaters.


Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America’s Favorite Food, Review. Karen Davis, January 4, 2006.

Karen Davis Publishes Book Defending Holocaust/Chicken Comparisons

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals received such negative feedback for its “Holocaust On Your Plate” campaign that it abandoned it and eradicated most of the traces of it from its various web sites. But United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis has decided the analogy can work for animal rights activists and has written a book on the topic, “The Holocaust & The Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities.”

In a press release on the release of the book, United Poultry Concerns reprints the following summary of the book provided by its publisher, Lantern,

In a thoughtful and thought-provoking contribution to the study of animals and the Holocaust, Karen Davis makes the case that significant parallels can — and must — be drawn between the Holocaust and the institutionalized abuse of billions of animals in factory farms. Carefully setting forth the conditions that must be met when one instance of oppression is used metaphorically to illuminate another, Davis demonstrates the value of such comparisons in exploring the invisibility of the oppressed, historical and hidden suffering, the idea that some groups were “made” to server others through suffering and sacrificial death, and other concepts that reveal powerful connections between animal and human experience — as well as human traditions and tendencies of which we all should be aware.

The press release included quotes from Carol Adams and Charles Patterson. Patterson, whose book “Eternal Treblinka” was the inspiration for PETA’s “Holocaust On Your Plate” campaign, says of Davis’ book,

Compelling and convincing . . . Not to think about, protest against, and learn from these twin atrocities — one completed in the middle of the last century, the other continuing every day — is to condone and support the fascist mentality that produced them. I thank Ms. Davis for writing this bold, brave book.


United Poultry Concerns is proud to announce our new book. Press Release, United Poultry Concerns, August 2, 2005.

Karen Davis on Bird Brains

The Washington Post recently published a summary of new research on avian brains that suggests they are more complex than previously believed which, in part, has implications for how birds evolved. Specifically, the researchers found that avian brains are more mammalian than previously believed and call for changing the nomenclature that scientists use to describe the avian brain to reflect this finding.

This, of course, was an open invitation for United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis to chime in with her twist on the new findings about avian brains. In a letter published in the Washington Post on February 12, Davis wrote,

Rick Weiss’s Feb. 1 news story, “Bird Brains Get Some New Names, And New Respect,” was deeply gratifying to those of us who spend our days with birds. We have been waiting to see scientific language and understanding catch up with the reality of bird intelligence. I spend my days with domestic chickens and turkeys, birds that have long been denigrated as stupid, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Just watch a hen calculate how to speed to her perch at night to avoid a certain attentive rooster in the way, and you know that a smart chick is looking out for her own interests.

The day may come when to be called a “chicken” or a “turkey” will be rightly regarded as a salute to a person’s intelligence.

I think there’s some opening for common ground here between activists and opponents. I think we can all agree that the chickens and turkeys Davis spends her days with are at least as intelligent as she is. See, we really can all get along.

And I can’t leave this without pointing out that when UPC posted a copy of Davis’ letter to AR-NEWS, they also urged people wanting more information about this research to visit AvianBrain.Org. I promptly followed their suggestion, but was horrified to see what are clearly the results of animal research all over the site, including illustrated cross-sections of the avian brain.

What about the animals who died for just to satisfy the curiosity of these mad scientists? I thought research like this was done just to make researchers rich?


Letter to the editor. Karen Davis, Washington Post, February 12, 2005.

Dunayer vs. Davis on Speciesism

Joan Dunayer was not impressed by Karen Davis review of her book, Speciesism and posted a lengthy critique of Davis’ review to animal rights mailing list AR-NEWS.

Dunayer elaborates on her anti-welfarism views,

Similarly, the managing editor of the conservative National Review opposes nonhuman rights but approves of PETA’s asking KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) to implement less-cruel slaughter. “Why not ‘gas killing,’ as a gentler alternative to the other stuff?” he writes, calling such a change “just.” Killing innocent beings is far from just, wehther or not they’re gassed. These two men endorse “humane slaughter” campaigns because such campaigns aren’t rights-based. To the contrary, they’re based on violating nonhumans’ rihgt to life. Instead of seeking measures compatible with the attitude that it’s acceptable to kill nonhumans, advocates should consistently work to change that attitude. Without such change, slaughter will go on and on.

Dunayer also challenges Davis’ claim that, “There is absolutely no evidence to support Dunayer’s claim that working for ‘welfarist’ reforms retards liberation.” Dunayer vehemently disagrees,

This is false. In Speciesism I provide evidence such as the following:

1. Switzerland’s elimination of battery cages increased the Swiss egg industry’s profitability and its acceptability to consumers.

2. A 2000 Zogby poll indicated that most U.S. adults feel better about eating animal-derived food if they think the animals were treated “humanely.”

3. Vivisectors and other abusers continually point to “welfarist” laws such as the Animal Welfare Act and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act as evidence that nonhumans are treated “humanely.” These laws, which have failed to protect nonhumans from extreme suffering, give consumers false assurances.

4. As reported by the egg industry itself, “welfarist” campaigns against food-removal forced molting have resulted in the industry’s starting to switch to low-nutrition starvation that will be less offensive to consumers.

To a large extent, Dunayer is correct — the main successes the animal rights movement have had so far are simply animal welfarist improvements, and tend to reinforce animal use rather than lead to animal rights. On the other hand, Dunayer’s liberationist fantasies are also doomed, at least in the United States.


Corrections of Davis’s false and misleading statements in her Specieism review. Joan Dunayer, January 11, 2005.

Karen Davis Reviews Joan Dunayer’s Speciesism

As mentioned previously, Joan Dunayer’s new book, Speciesism, has stirred up a hornet’s nest (excuse my maligning of our non-human friends for the moment) among animal rights individuals and groups because of its attack on groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and United Poultry Concerns because those groups have adopted a strategy of seeking intermediary step — such as changes in the size of cages that egg laying hens are kept in — on the way to their animal liberation fantasies. As far as Dunayer is concerned, groups like PETA and UPC are almost as bad as those who “murder” animals themselves.

UPC’s Karen Davis recently posted her review of Dunayer’s book, and the first thing to note is, as with Norm Phelps’ review, that the difference is one of tactics rather than philosophy. So, for example, Davis writes extremely favorably of Dunayer’s overall view of animal rights (emphasis added),

She [Dunayer] challenges the privileging of beings whose mental life fits the profile of a philosopher gazing in the mirror. Not only is there wealth of evidence showing that nonhuman animals, including insects, have rich and varied lives, including, in many cases, “perceptual powers that we lack”; but virtually all nonhumans are better eco-persons than we are. On the basis of reason and ethics, it makes sense, says Dunayer, to “value benign individuals more than those who, on balance cause harm. In utilitarian terms, a chicken’s life is worth more — not less — than the life of the average human, because chickens are far more benign.” But human vanity being what it is, such logic seldom prevails.

If I or David Martosko said that “Animal rights activists value animals more than human beings” we’d be accused of creating a straw man. Joan Dunayer says it, and the usual suspects fall in line to praise her.

What Davis objects to is Dunayer’s assertion that the only difference between PETA/UPC and those who slaughter animals for food is that “PETA and UPC staff won’t commit the murders themselves.”

Davis complains,

Dunayer writes: “If I were in a Nazi concentration camp and someone on the outside asked me, ‘Do you want me to work for better living conditions, more-humane deaths in the gas chamber, or the liberation of all concentration camps?’ I’d answer, ‘Liberation.’ . . . I’d regard any focus on better living conditions or more-‘humane’ deaths as immoral.”

But is the choice so patently either/or? In real prison situations, inmates are ready to sell body and soul for a stale crust of bread — anything! If I were in a concentration camp, I don’t know that I wouldn’t forego the possibility of full emancipation sometime in the future for a little cup of coffee, a reduction in the amount of lice or number of beatings, a less painful death, in the here and now. Stupid maybe, but what did the political machine bosses offer the grateful suffering multitudes in the early 20-th century New York City that the social theorists alone could not deliver? “There’s got to be in every ward somebody that any bloke can come to and get help. Help, you understand; none of your law and justice, but help.”


Book Review: Speciesism. Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns, January 11, 2005.

Karen Davis on Holocaust Comparisons

Karen Davis recently wrote a lengthy response to critics who complain about animal rights activists comparing the condition of animals slaughtered for food to the victims of the Holocaust. A Tale of Two Holocausts argues that, if anything, animals actually suffer more than human beings, and that the term “Holocaust” could be said to have been misappropriated by the animals’ oppressors.

Brian O’Connor has an interesting analysis of Davis’ work, of which the following prefatory remark is worth noting before looking at the particulars of Davis’ claims,

“A Tale of Two Holocausts” is tedious and pedantic, and weaves together cliched themes of Animal Rights moral equivalence with the fallacious logical operators of the sort “what if” “could well be” “some say” “can’t show otherwise” “‘can’ equals ‘should'” that wouldn’t pass muster in any peer reviewed journal other than a post-modern rag specializing in the ivory-tower equivalent of “alien abduction” conspiracy theories (“You weren’t there — I was abducted. Prove me wrong!”). “Two Holocausts” differs little from other such tracts either in its challenged logic or in pretentiousness, neither of which is an asset. But don’t take my word for it — plod through the entire thing yourself.

To put it a bit more bluntly, its a boring, rambling piece that, as O’Connor points out, relies on a lot of weasel words to doesn’t form any sort of coherent point. But there are some interesting things Davis has to say along the way.

The first thing that stands out is Davis’ assertion that not only is it appropriate to compare the condition of animals with the suffering that human beings suffered during the Holocaust or any number of other genocides, mass murders and ethnic cleansings, but animals may actually suffer more more than humans in such situations. That’s right, a herd of cattle destined for slaughter may suffer more than a family of Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Davis writes (emphasis added),

Notwithstanding, it is reasonable to assume that animals imprisoned within confinement systems suffer even more, in certain respects, than do humans who are similarly confined. This occurs in a similar way that a mentally impaired person might experience dimensions of suffering in being rough-handled, imprisoned, and shouted at that elude a person capable of conceptualizing the experience. Indeed, one who is capable of conceptualizing one’s own suffering may be unable to grasp what it feels like to suffer without being able to conceptualize it, of being in a condition that could add to, rather than reduce, the suffering. It is in this quite different sense from what is usually meant, when we are told that it is “meaningless” to compare the suffering of a chicken with that of a human being, that the claim resonates. The biologist, Marian Stamp Dawkins, says that other animal species “may suffer in states that no human has ever dreamed of or experienced” (Dawkins 1985, 29). Matthew Scully writes in Dominion of the pain and suffering of animals in human confinement systems:

For all we know, their pain may sometimes seem more immediate, blunt, arbitrary, and inescapable than ours. Walk through an animal shelter or slaughterhouse and you wonder if animal suffering might not at times be all the more terrifying and all-encompassing without benefit of the words and concepts that for us, after all, confer not only meaning but consolation. Whatever’s going on inside their heads, it doesn’t seem “mere” to them. (2002, 7)

. . .

[After the 9/11 attack] I compared all this to the relatively satisfying lives of the majority of human victims of 9/11 prior to the attack and added that we humans have a plethora of palliatives, ranging from proclaiming ourselves heroes and plotting revenge against our malefactors to the consolation of family and friends and the relief of painkilling drugs and alcoholic beverages. Moreover, whereas human animals have the ability to make some sort of sense of the tragedy, the chickens, in contrast, have no cognitive insulation, no compensation, presumably no comprehension of the causes of their suffering, and thus no psychological relief from their suffering. The fact that intensively raised chickens are forced to live in systems that reflect our dispositions, not theirs, and that these systems are inimical to their basic nature (as revealed by their behavior, physical breakdown, and other indicators), shows that they are suffering in ways that could equal and even exceed anything that we have known. Industry sources note, for example, that hens caged for egg production are so overwrought that they exhibit the “emotionality” of “hysteria,” and that something as simple as an electrical storm can produce “an outbreak of hysteria” in four-to-eight-week-old “broiler” chickens confined by the thousands in buildings (Bell and Weaver 2002, 89; Clark, et al. 2004, 2).

You will notice the abundance of qualifiers that O’Connor sites as rendering the essay all but pointless. Animals may, could, might, etc. Of course they also may not, could not or might not, so why bother with simple conjecture after conjecture?

Davis’ claim that an animals inability to conceptualize any pain it feels might make that pain worse is odd given that conceptualization of pain is generally viewed as increasing the severity of the pain, and genocide, mass murder and ordinary every day murder has frequently incorporated said conceptualization to increase the horror of murder. Consider, for example, the civilians kidnapped by terrorists in Iraq and publicly paraded on video before being beheaded. Along with the physical pain of such a gruesome murder, those poor souls have had to endure torture and the psychological pain of their own conceptualizations of what was likely to happen to them.

We see this in our culture when human beings talk of death that occurs almost instantaneously or when an individual is unconscious as being a more “peaceful” death than one that occurs with the full conscious awareness of the individual. This is certainly an odd idea if being able to consciously conceptualize pain and death minimizes the pain relative to not being able to conceptualized pain and death.

Davis also addressed the odd subject of “Who ‘Owns’ the Holocaust?” Here Davis suggests that the Jews — oppressors of animals, after all — may have improperly appropriated the term “Holocaust” for their own purposes.

Davis writes (emphasis added),

The word holocaust is not species-specific, and therefore Jews have no ownership rights over it. From whatever source the word “Holocaust,” as it is now employed, came from, Jews have taken it over from the Greek word, holokauston, which in ancient times denoted their own and others’ cultural practice of sacrificing animals, to designate the Nazi extermination of the European Jews.4 Conceivably, those animals could complain that their experience of being forcibly turned into burnt offerings (and to please or sate a god they would not necessarily have acknowledged as their god) has been unjustly appropriated by their victimizers, who are robbing them of their original experience of suffering. Through PETA’s “Holocaust on Your Plate” exhibit, the animals reclaim their experience, past, present, and future. Taking the animals’ view it may be said of them, as Bruno Bettelheim said of the millions of Jews and others who were systematically slaughtered by the Nazis, that “while these millions were slaughtered for an idea, they did not die for one” (Bettelheim 1980, 93).

Ah yes, the Jews unfairly appropriated the word Holocaust from the animals, and are continuing to oppress the animals by thereby diminish the suffering they cause to animals. You just can’t make this stuff up.

There is one final thing of note in the essay. Davis feels the need to quote from left wing activist Ward Churchill who, according to Davis’ notes, wrote the forward to Steven Best and Anthony Nocella’s collection, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals. Here’s what Davis says of Churchill,

In A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, Native American scholar Ward Churchill writes that the experience of the Jews under the Nazis “is unique only in the sense that all such phenomena exhibit unique characteristics. Genocide, as the nazis practiced it, was never something suffered exclusively by the Jews, nor were the nazis singularly guilty of its practice” (Churchill, 1997, 35-36). Furthermore, Churchill argues in his Forward to Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals: “Given that the key to the ‘genocidal mentality’ resides, as virtually all commentators agree, in the perpetrators’ conscious ‘dehumanization of the Other’ they have set themselves to exterminating, it follows that removal of the self-assigned license enjoyed by humans to do as they will to/with nonhumans can only serve to better the lot of humans targeted for dehumanization/subjugation/eradication” (Churchill 2004, 2-3).

It is interesting that Davis would cite Churchill and that Best and Nocella would choose him to write the forward to their book. Churchill is infamous for, among a lot of other things, statements he made that were as outrageous as Davis’ about 9/11. In an essay entitled “Sometimes People Push Back,” Churchill compared the victims of the 9/11 attack to Nazis,

Well, really. Let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they [the victims of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center] were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire – the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance” – a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore” – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

Davis, Best, Churchill — what a lovely group of like-minded individuals.


A Tale of Two Holocausts. Karen Davis, Animal Liberation Philosophy and Policy Journal, Volume II, Issue 2.

“Some People Push Back” On the Justice of Roosting Chickens . Ward Churchill, 2001.