What the Hummer is to fuel efficiency, poultry is to animal welfare. No food in the nation produces more suffering than poultry. Factory farming had its beginnings in the poultry industry in the 1920s, and no other industry has been so altered by its methods and logic.
To make matters worse, birds raised for meat have absolutely no protection under the law. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act is the only piece of federal legislation that offers protection to farmed animals at slaughter, and chickens and turkeys are formally excluded from the law. As a result, its legal—in fact it is the rule—to paralyze birds and slaughter them while they are still conscious (cows and pigs must be rendered unconscious before slaughter). This is true of free range, organic, and even pastured birds.
Its also perfectly legal to starve birds, cut off their sensitive beaks, and confine them for their entire lives in spaces so small they can never stretch their wings. And there are currently no laws in place to prevent corporations from genetically engineering birds any way they like—regardless of the cost to the animals wellbeing.
Todays chickens, for example, grow three times as fast on a third the feed when compared to heritage breeds. That abnormal growth rate has devastating effects on the birds health (imagine a child reaching adult size by age 7 while only eating lunch). Even more disturbing is the genetic engineering of todays turkeys, which can no longer fly, walk normally, or reproduce sexually.
When it comes to poultry, anything goes.