PETA protesters tell KFC, Yum! Brands to go cluck themselves
Close to a dozen protesters gathered ON DEC. 6 outside a KFC franchise on Battleground Avenue, bringing both a national boycott and a chicken-suited protester in a wheelchair to Greensboro.
Ben Goldsmith, a 23-year-old activist from Norfolk, Va., donned the chicken costume to protest the treatment of chickens at farms that supply the restaurant chain. Investigators from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which organized the boycott, say they have documented workers kicking the animals, scalding them alive and cutting off beaks among other things.
Another protester wore a video screen that replayed undercover footage of such abuses. Several cars passing the sign-waving group honked their support. The protest occurred between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., after the main lunch rush.
‘“If their executives were treating cats and dogs the way they treat chickens they would be in jail for animal cruelty,’” said Lindsay Rajt, an assistant campaign coordinator for PETA.
Protesters want KFC’s parent company, Yum! Brands, to adopt its recommended animal welfare practices. The group has singled out KFC because they accuse the company of having a worse animal care track record than any other fast food chain.
Among the standards PETA recommends for poultry farms is the use of controlled-atmosphere killing, which involves gassing the birds instead of stunning them and slitting their throats. The system would increase worker safety and pay for itself within two years, Rajt said. In addition, the group would like to see an end to growth hormone treatment and nontherapeutic antibiotic treatment.
Dialogue between KFC and PETA started in 2001, when Yum! Brands Vice President Jonathan Blum agreed to implement higher animal welfare standards. After empanelling an animal welfare advisory panel, the company stopped working with PETA in improving standards, according to a timeline on the organization website.
The official boycott launched in January 2003, and protests similar to the one in Greensboro have occurred in support of PETA’s demands. In addition, several celebrities from drummer Tommy Lee to civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton have come on board in the group’s campaign against KFC.
‘“I know that they don’t like it when we’re out here holding signs,’” Rajt said. ‘“It turns a lot of customers away.’”
Some of the most egregious cases of animal mistreatment Rajt mentioned came from KFC’s supplier of the year, a plant in Moorefield, W. Va. In the footage, workers can be seen stomping on chickens, throwing them against walls and scalding them alive.
Yum! Brands and KFC have responded by saying that they have an animal-welfare board and that progress has been made. Both company websites feature links to animal welfare guidelines, although they are short on specifics.
KFC does have a seven-member animal-welfare advisory board staffed by veterinarians, academics and leaders of the poultry industry. Activists from PETA charge that some board members have resigned in frustration over a lack of action to improve animal welfare. An email from KFC public relations indicates that all of KFC’s poultry suppliers are required to abide by company animal welfare guidelines.
‘“KFC just doesn’t seem to get the compassion message,’” said activist Kristin Von Karowsky-Nelson of Greensboro. ‘“We’re here to awaken their conscience. I just don’t think most people really know what the company does to chickens.’”
Goldsmith described the chicken suit as an easy way to raise awareness about the issue.
‘“It’s not so easy just to walk up to someone and start talking about how KFC abuses chickens,’” he said. ‘“This suit breaks the ice.’”
Rajt said hundreds of protests were taking place a month across the country. Inside the restaurant a handful of people ate, seemingly unaware of the protest.
For first time protester Lynette Guill, a visual merchandise manager at Belk, the cause is a valid one.
‘“I’m not saying that nobody should eat chicken,’” she said. ‘“But at least if we’re going to eat it, we can kill them in a humane way.’”
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