Karen Davis: 9/11 Attacks May Have Reduced Pain and Suffering of Chickens

United Poultry Concerns’ Karen Davis recently posted an open letter to Vegan Voice, an Australian vegan magazine, denouncing Peter Singer for allegedly disparaging chickens in a recent book review that touched on the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Singer, you may remember, argues that morality consist of reducing suffering in sentient persons. Singer has long hedged about where exactly the line between persons and non-persons should be drawn, but has speculated that a chicken might be an example of a creature that is not a person because it may not have a sense of its own existence over time.

That in itself was enough to enrage Davis, who insists that when chickens at her sanctuary “yell and otherwise beg and demand to be let out of their enclosures,” this is all the evidence anyone needs that chickens have a sense of their own existence over time.

But where Singer really crossed the line in Davis’ eyes was when Singer recently argued that it was wrong to draw a moral equivalency between the deaths of thousands of people in the 9/11 terrorist attack and the deaths of millions of chickens. Reviewing Joan Dunayer’s book Animal Equality: Language and Liberty, Singer rejected Dunayer’s claims that people should use the same terminology for the suffering of animals as they use to describe the suffering of human beings. Singer wrote,

Reading this suggestion just a few days after the killing of several thousand people at the World Trade Center, I have to demur. It is not speciesist to think that this event was a greater tragedy than the killing of several million chickens, which no doubt also occurred on September 11, as it occurs on every working day in the United States. There are reasons for thinking that the deaths of begins with family ties as close as those between the people killed at the World Trade Center and their loved ones are more tragic than the deaths of beings without those ties; and there is more that could be said about the kind of loss that death is to begins who have a high degree of self-awareness, and a vivid sense of their own existence over time.

Davis will have none of this, offering two closely related arguments — (a) that, if anything, the suffering experienced by chickens is worse than that experienced by humans in the 9/11 attacks, and (b) that the 9/11 attacks may have produced a net reduction in pain and suffering, since it likely killed several thousand meat eaters.

Davis writes,

For 35 million chickens in the United States alone, every single night is a terrorist attack, if the victim’s experience counts and human agency is acknowledged. That is what “chicken catching” amount to in essence. And it isn’t just something that is “happening” to these birds but a deliberate act of human violence perpetrated against innocent (they have done us no harm), defenseless, sentient individuals.

While I would not dream of using arguments to diminish the horror of the September 11 attack for thousands of people, I would also suggest that the people who died in the attack did not suffer more terrible deaths than animals in slaughterhouses suffer every day. Moreover, the survivors of the September 11 attack and their loved ones have an array of consolations-patriotism, the satisfaction of U.S. retaliation, religious faith, TV ads calling them heroes, etc–that the chickens, whose lives are continuously painful and miserable, including being condemned to live in human-imposed circumstances that are inimical and alien to them as chickens, do not have available. They suffer raw, without the palliatives.

As Davis sums up near the end of her letter, she in fact does think “it is speciesist to think that the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was a greater tragedy than what millions of chickens endured that day and what they endure every day.”

If a chicken killed for food is morally equivalent to a human killed by a terrorist, then the obvious question is whether or not the victims of the 9/11 attack were truly innocent, and Davis has no problem at all leaping to the logical conclusion of that line of thinking. She writes,

Doubtless the majority, if not every single one, of the people who suffered and/or died as a result of the September 11 attack ate, and if they are now a life continue to eat, chickens. It is possible to argue, using (Peter Singer’s) utilitarian calculations, that the deaths of thousands of people whose trivial consumer satisfactions included the imposition of fundamental misery and death on hundreds of thousands of chickens reduced the amount of pain and suffering in the world.

Some animal rights activists care more about the suffering of animals than people.


An Open Letter to Vegan Voice Re: Singer’s Disparagement of Chickens. Karen Davis, December 26, 2001.

Review of Joan Dunayer’s Animal Equality: Language and Liberty. Vegan Voice, Dec. 2001 – Feb. 2002, Peter Singer.

UPC's Anti-KFC Protest

Recently I wrote about a United Poultry Concerns planning to protest at a KFC. Apparently they went ahead and protested at a Washington DC-area KFC. An account from the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that while the rain soaked the activists, they carried signs in front of the restaurant with slogans such as “Chickens Have Feelings” and “Imagine How They Feel” (I’d think “Imagine How Good They Taste” would be more accurate, but that’s just me).

Anyway, there were some interesting details in the report. Like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups, UPC apparently does some serious padding with its membership numbers. UPC claims it has 10,000 members nationwide and last year raised $122,000. Unless I’m mistaken that’s just $12.20 per member. Since UPC lists its membership dues as $30 for new members, $25 for renewing members, and $10 for students, its hard to see how they have 10,000 new members unless all but a handful are students.

The Herald-Leader quoted protester Jean Colison, 57, of Bethesda, Maryland, as complaining that “Nine billion animals are killed in the United States for food, and eight billion of them are chickens. I think it’s unjust. I think it’s unfair.” (She might be right, maybe we should eat more turkeys and beef so the chickens don’t feel like they’re the only ones being picked on).

Karen Davis showed up to add that, “They [chickens] are very zesty, cheerful beings when they’re not being abused. We speak about loving the earth. Well, if anybody loves the earth, it’s a chicken.”

The best line, though, had to be from KFC customer Loria Suggs who happened to be ordering some chicken strips in the drive-through. Asked whether the protesters had convinced her to give up chicken, she indicated they had not and added, “There are much greater causes they could stand out in the rain for than, ‘Don’t eat chicken.'”


Animal activists protest restaurant chain’s fare. Frank E. Lockwood, Lexington Herald-Leader, July 30, 2001.

Karen Davis, Songwriter

Back in April, as it has for the last four years, United Poultry Concerns promised to protest at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The event was marred by rain, but that wasn’t about deter UPC. In a report for their Summer 2001 Poultry Press, UPC claimed that the “Big Chicken in the Sky Rains out Egg Roll, Not UPC.”

Apparently UPC handed out a pamphlet to kids and parents containing song lyrics written by Karen Davis meant to be sung to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Somehow I don’t think this is destined to become a children’s classic, but you can judge from the lyrics,

Chicken, chicken, why aren't you
With your mother hen so true?
Pecking, playing, running around
Taking sunbaths on the ground.
Chicken, chicken, why aren't you
With your mother hen so true?

Chicken, chicken, why aren't you? With your sisters and brothers, too? Scratching, running, having fun, Taking dustbaths in the sun. Chicken, chicken, why aren't you With your sisters and brothers, too?

Chicken, chicken, baby bird May your cheeping cries be heard, Hushed and soothed by those who see We are all one family. Chicken, chicken, why aren't you With your mother hen so true?

I suspect those lyrics made even the “Big Chicken in the Sky” cringe.


Big Chicken in the Sky Rains out Egg Roll, Not UPC. United Poultry Concerns, Summer 2001.

Lets Help the Activists Burn Out More Quickly

Karen Davis, the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, recently penned a long whine about how easily animal rights activists become burned out. There are some worthwhile lessons to be learned here.

According to Davis, “It’s easy for an animal activist to become consumed by rage and despair, to grow exhausted and burn out confronted with the horror, each and every day, of our species’ relentless assault on other species.”

Especially when you’re not getting anywhere. Davis quotes Norman Phelps of The Fund for Animals as telling her that he started campaigning against hunting in the mid-1980s thinking it would be outlawed within the decade, and here he still is fighting to get it banned. Closer to home for Davis, she notes that UPC and others managed to stop a popular pigeon shoot, but simultaneously the number of chickens killed in the United States has increased by 10 million a day since her involvement with the animal rights movement began.

Davis herself seems doubtful that the animal rights movement will achieve any real long-term success, writing, “My attitude is not ‘If I didn’t think we’d win, I’d quit,’ to which I would say, ‘Then quit.'”

Davis identifies three reasons that cause animal rights activists to give up the fight,

…the endless omnipresence of animal suffering caused by humans, public resistance to our message, and letdown by other activists. We start out full of energy, we picture victory and a crowd of protesters at every demonstration, we envision reason and compassion taking charge of people’s lives, and then reality erodes our dream.

These are all situations, of course that those of us opposed to the animal rights movement should do our best to encourage.


How does one survive dealing day after day with a cruel industry?. Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns, Summer 2001.

Animal Rights Activists Take On Thanksgiving

As the United States prepares
to celebrate Thanksgiving, animal rights activists are busy trying to
make their case that meat eating in general, and the eating of turkeys
specifically, is cruel and unnecessary.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched a special undercover investigative report on its web
site claiming to document cruelty at a turkey farm in Minnesota. PETA
urged people to write Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and other officials
with complaints about animal cruelty.

Interestingly, even PETA seems
to be recognizing that it has a credibility gap with its undercover investigations
after repeatedly providing misinformation and selectively edited videotapes
in previous undercover operations. A letter from Mary Beth Sweetland,
PETA’s Director of Research, Investigations & Rescue Department, to
a Minnesota prosecutor specifically mentions that the videotape of the
investigation is “a first-generation copy of the original videographic

No word yet on whether or not
Minnesota officials are investigating the case.

Meanwhile United Poultry Concerns
is going to protest the annual White House Thanksgiving ceremony. Keeping
with tradition, a live turkey will be presented at the White House and
President Clinton will then “pardon” the turkey.

According to UPC’s Karen Davis,
“Instead of sarcastically ‘pardoning’ a turkey to palliate mass murder,
food poisoning, moldering carcasses and rotting politics, we urge people
to join us in marching to a different drumstick this Thanksgiving and
Eat Happy.”

A UPC press release on the
protest also claimed the pardoning ceremony was designed to “make fun
of turkeys.”

Meanwhile, to celebrate Thanksgiving,
PETA will be in Baltimore giving away fur coats to the homeless. The coats
have been donated to PETA over the years and have a red stripe painted
on one of the sleeves to make them worthless for resale.

Here’s my suggestion for PETA
next year. Why not get a bunch of people to donate Thanksgiving turkeys,
put a red food die stripe down the middle and pass them out as well? Couldn’t


Turkey Advocates
Will Protest Presidential “Pardoning” Ceremony
, United Poultry Concerns
press release, November 1999.

Turkey Farm Cruelty:
The Case
, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals letter, November
18, 1999.

Peta To
Give Away Fur Coats To Baltimore’s Homeless
, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals press release, November 22, 1999.