Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry

by Karen Davis, Ph.D.

Book Publishing Company,

Reviewed by Richard Schwartz

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

--William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence"

If a robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage,
How feels heaven when
Dies the billionth battery hen?

--Spike Mulligan, British commentator


Any person with a degree of compassion and sensitivity would be "in a rage" after reading Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. For, with eloquence and thoroughness (there are 591 footnotes), Karen Davis shows how in order to maximize profits, chickens are treated not as living, feeling beings, but as units of production, denied exercise, space to move freely, fresh air, sunlight and opportunities to fulfill their individuality, normal behavior patterns and natural instincts. If, as Mahatma Gandhi has stated, "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated," this book, and others on intensive livestock agriculture, indicate that our society deserves a very severe condemnation. As Karen Davis puts it, "Wherever we are, we are morally obligated to end the oppression. Until [battery cages] have been discontinued, our species stands condemned of a criminal relationship with the living world."

Karen Davis is a person who actively rescues chickens from factory farms. She then cares for them as though they were her own children. Karen Davis's passion for chickens is as strong as any can be. I have often marveled at how someone who loves chickens as much as she does can conjure up the courage to delve so thoroughly into the horrors of their lives in industrial agriculture.

Horrors such as:

Male-chick disposal: Since they are of no value in the production of eggs, male chicks'a quarter billion a year*are necessarily disposed of at the hatchery. There are no laws to protect the chicks from any cost-efficient (read: cruel) method of disposal the producer chooses.

Tremendous crowding: Though a hen has a wingspan of 30 to 32 inches, she is oppressively confined to an average living space of 48 square inches (about 7" x 7").

Mutilation: Because of the crowding and other unnatural conditions, chickens tend to peck at one another with harmful consequences. To avoid hurting profits, producers de-beak the birds, a very painful process that causes prolonged suffering or early death.
Toxic air: Hens constantly breathe in toxic ammonia from decomposing uric acid in the manure pits below their cages.

Isaac Bashevis Singer, the late Nobel laureate in literature, was fond of saying, "I am a vegetarian for health reasons--the health of the chicken." Karen Davis discusses just how unhealthy modern "broilers" and egg-laying chickens are because of their horrible living conditions. Among the debilitating diseases the book considers are foot and leg deformities, fatty-liver syndrome, swollen-head syndrome, salmonella infection, coccidiosis, mycotoxicosis (fungal poisoning), pulmonary-hypertension syndrome, Marek's disease, infectious-bursal disease and several types of bone diseases.

In Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs, Davis focuses nearly exclusively on issues of animal cruelty. I believe that the book could have been even more effective if it gave more information on how consuming chickens and eggs is harmful to human health and to the environment. Many arguments could have been made against the popular notion that chicken is a health food. Chicken flesh and eggs are high in fat, cholesterol and animal protein--with no fiber or complex carbohydrates--and therefore contribute to many degenerative diseases. The book does note that a million-hen egg complex produces 125 tons of chemically polluted manure every single day, which ends up in rivers and streams. But this incredible fact might have been expanded on in a chapter entirely dedicated to the disastrous environmental effects of poultry production.

Still, without hesitation, I strongly suggest that every vegetarian and animal-rights advocate read this book to add to his or her knowledge of and sense of outrage about the brutal conditions under which chickens are raised today. People who still eat chickens and eggs should also read it to become aware of the tremendous cruelty and pain inflicted in the production of their food.


Richard H. Schwartz is a professor of mathematics at the College of Staten Island. He is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism; Judaism and Global Survival; and Mathematics and Global Survival. He is a patron of the International Jewish Vegetarian Society.

His E-mail and World Wide Web addresses are:

-- (E-mail)
-- in the "Rebbes" section

This article originally appeared in the VivaVine, a publication of the VivaVegie Society.

Letters To a Progressive Father From His Orthodox Son

By Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen
Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem/New York, 1995
Reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz, Ph. D.

The Universal Jew tells of Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen's struggle to resolve the basic conflict between the universal world view that his progressive parents had given him, and the particularistic attitude of many Orthodox Jews which focused on the needs and concerns of the Jewish people. Yosef found that this tension seemed to exist within the tradition itself, since there are sources which stress involvement and love for all people and also sources which emphasize the uniqueness of the Jewish people.

Yosef's father, Seymour Oboler, was active in the labor movement, civil rights organizations, and other causes on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. His mother organized people to help meet the needs of the sick and elderly in their community, and Yosef and his sister often participated.

When Yosef started showing an interest in traditional Judaism at a young age, his father feared that he would abandon the struggle for social justice, that he would become intolerant of other people's beliefs and practices, including those of his parents, and that he would even become prejudiced against Gentiles. Although his father's fears were alleviated, Yosef struggled with these issues for most of his adult life. Fortunately, throughout his life, he found dedicated Orthodox teachers who guided him to classical sources which stressed Judaism's message for humanity. Yosef found a statement by Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch in The Nineteen Letters that inspired him to try to resolve this tension: ''Judaism, if properly understood and properly presented,unites all living things with a bond of love and justice.''

The author also explores with his father a number of ancient rabbinic stories (midrashim) which indicate that the people of Israel were destined to be a microcosm of the world's people. Using these traditional sources, he demonstrates that the ''Jewish story'' is in some way ''the human story.'' He writes:

For through Divine Providence humanity evolved into a ''rainbow'' of diverse peoples. Therefore, if the Torah is to tell a story of relevance to all humanity, it needs a ''people'' to act out this story. It's as if the world is a ''theater,'' and G-d, the ''director'' chose the Jews for a central role. But they were to be more than just another national group; they were to become a ''rainbow'' people - one which could represent all the groups in the ''audience.''

According to a midrash (rabbinic parable), Avraham, the first Jew, ''stood on one side of the river, while the rest of the world stood on the other side.'' Therefore, the author reminds us that the foundation for our universal contribution is our ability to maintain our values and our separate identity so that we, as a people, can serve as an example to others. And Yosef points out that there were a number of Jewish radicals in both his generation and his father's generation who, in their own way, sensed that the Jewish people have a unique mission. For example, he cites the following quote of Jewish radical activist Abbie Hoffman: ''I see Judaism as a way of life. Sticking up for the underdog. Being an outsider. A critic of society. The kid on the corner who says the emperor has no clothes on. The Prophet.''

Yosef indicates that our universal concern must also include animals. He points out that Judaism teaches that "all of God's creatures are entitled to our compassion and concern". He retells the midrash stating that Moses was judged as one who was suitable to lead the Israelites out of Egypt because he showed compassion to a thirsty lamb, and also the midrash that tells us that Noah and his family were constantly involved in taking care of the needs of the animals on the ark. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the Torah applies the word tzaddil (righteous person) to only two individuals, Noah and Joseph, and both provided food for both people and animals in a time of crisis. Yosef also discusses Judaism's message of esponsibility to the environment, that we are to be stewards of the earth, "to till it and to guard it" (Genesis 2:15).

The Universal Jew helps both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews to go beyond the stereotyped views that each group has of the other. And it demonstrates through an explanation of classical Torah sources that there is a universal vision which can unite us. I hope that this book will be widely read and discussed, and that many more people will join Yosef in relating Judaism's powerful universal message. The detailed study guide at the end gives many sources that will be very helpful in this effort.


Richard H. Schwartz is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism.

Letters To a Progressive Father From His Orthodox Son
can be obtained from :

Feldheim Publishers
200 Airport Executive Park, Suite 202
Nanuet, N.Y. 10954
Tel. 800-237- 7149

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