On Saturday, June 23, a McDonald's in Lakewood will be ground zero for Denver-area protesters taking part in a nationwide demonstration against the giant chain over alleged mistreatment of chickens that are subsequently turned into McNuggets.
"This is what consumers are demanding," says Zoë Sigle, senior grassroots director for the Denver branch of The Humane League, the advocacy group behind the rallies. "They don't want animal cruelty, and this is a step we can take in the right direction."
It's the second demonstration by animal activists at a Denver-area McDonald's in recent months. In April, Humane League volunteers and others, including a person clad as a particularly sad Ronald McDonald, gathered at the chain's 16th Street Mall location, as seen in two of this post's photos.
"The national protest is part of the 88% Campaign," Sigle explains. "Chickens make up 88 percent of farmed animals in the United States, and consumers are speaking up about how they want to implement meaningful welfare protections for these chickens."
Sigle outlines the four main "asks" in regard to the chickens used by McDonald's.
"First, we're asking for a change of breed," she says. "Right now, the chickens are bred to grow so big so fast that they suffer heart attacks, broken legs and bone fractures. This is all because of their genetics — so we're asking that they switch to a higher-welfare breed of chicken, so they're not prisoners of their own bodies having to live in pain for their entire lives."
The next demand, Sigle continues, involves "improvement in the chickens' living conditions. For the most part, they're kept in filthy, crowded sheds. We're asking that they be provided perches, give them more space to move around and some access to sunlight, and give them more litter, so they're not living in their own toxic ammonia fumes."
The third request involves an end to what Sigle describes as "live shackle slaughter. That's where the chickens are essentially hung upside down while they're fully conscious. Because chickens don't have diaphragms, this crushes their lungs. The goal is for their heads to be submerged in electric water baths — essentially a bath of water with an electric current running through it that's supposed to stun the birds so they don't consciously experience the slaughter process. But as you can imagine, when they're hung upside down, a lot of the chickens are able to move their heads and flap their wings so that the stun goes through the wings and doesn't affect their brain. Then their throats are slit and they go through a bath of boiling water. At that point, they should all be dead, but sometimes they're still alive — and this is a very traumatic process for the chickens."
The Humane League would like farmers to replace this slaughtering procedure with "controlled atmosphere killing," Sigle says. "In this type of scenario, the chickens are essentially gassed, which stuns them all. This is more effective than stunning them in electric water baths, and they don't have to be hung upside down. They're still killed, but veterinary experts agree that it's less traumatic for the chickens."
The fourth change the Humane League would like to happen, Sigle notes, is "third-party monitoring. We want to make sure companies are following through with what they've promised."
According to Sigle, a number of major fast-food providers, including Subway, Jack in the Box and Burger King, have pledged to implement all four of these methodologies by 2024. In contrast, McDonald's has signed on to two.
"After we spoke to them last year, they actually agreed to change to controlled atmosphere killing and third-party auditing," Sigle reveals. "But they've made no meaningful commitment to changing the breed of the chicken or environmental enrichment. What that means is that even though their deaths may be a little less stressful, their lives are still going to be just as horrible as they are now. And the purpose of this protest locally and nationally is to take into account the entire lives of these chickens — to make sure we're not neglecting them while they're still alive."
Many activists argue that any mass slaughtering of animals for food is wrong, period. But Sigle sees the Humane League's efforts as an intermediate approach.
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"At the individual level, we encourage people to look into these issues and potentially develop plant-based diets," she says. "But we recognize that when we're talking to large institutions, we need to get the support of the public — and what the public wants right now is better conditions for animals."
She adds that "in general, the Denver area has been very supportive of this campaign. We were the first community to launch a protest outside of Chicago," where McDonald's is headquartered, "and we've gotten a lot of support from people who live here. For our last protest on the 16th Street Mall, we had around thirty people and we got a thumbs-up from police officers. They said to one of our protesters that it was one of the most peaceful demonstrations they'd seen."
Granted, Sigle concedes that "McDonald's management wasn't very happy. But that's to be expected."
The latest protest is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, June 23, at the 6801 West Alameda Avenue McDonald's in Lakewood. In the meantime, a Change.org petition headlined "Tell McDonald's: Do Better for Chickens" has collected more than 200,000 signatures at this writing. Click for more details.