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'Unconscious Chicken Farming' Social Media Messages


Circulating messages describe a proposed 'Matrix style' chicken farming method in which chickens that have had their cerebral cortex removed will be immobilised in massive steel frames and fed via tubes.

Facebook phising
© Tribaliumivanka

Brief Analysis

The method described is just a concept put forward by UK architecture student André Ford in 2012. There are no credible reports indicating that the concept has actually been put into practise. In fact, it could be argued that the inherent impracticality of the idea means that it is quite unlikely to be implemented any time soon. Ford maintained that the method would be a more humane way of raising factory chickens. But, the bizarre concept has raised ire and consternation among many that have heard of it.


Unconscious Chicken Farming: This could be an upcoming "humane" alternative to the current method of factory chicken farming.

Here's how it works: Chickens are placed in "a massive steel frame that would contain up to 1,000 birds. In it the chickens are completely immobilized—their feet are removed (to save space), and the birds receive food, water and oxygen through an intricate network of tubes. In order to eliminate the suffering that chickens would face under such conditions, Ford proposes that the birds’ cerebral cortex be removed, leaving the brain stem (and key homeostatic functions) intact. The chickens would continue to grow, but would basically spend their lives in a coma."

Detailed Analysis

Various messages currently circulating via social media describe a future chicken farming method in which the birds have their cerebral cortex removed and are then immobilised in huge steel frames. The "comatose" chickens would be fed via tubes and would continue to grow normally but without feeling any pain or distress.  Although it has been put forward as a more humane way to raise factory chickens, the bizarre Matrix style idea has generated disgust and consternation among many commentators. The messages come complete with an image depicting a fake chicken suspended in a steel frame.

The concept is one that has indeed been suggested as an alternative to traditional chicken farming methods. However, it is very much just a concept. There are no indications that the method has yet been implemented in any practical sense.  Nor have I found any reports of concrete plans to use the system in the future.

British architecture student André Ford put the idea forward in 2012 as part of an art project.  

A February 2012 Wired article reported on Ford's project, noting:
But Ford goes a step further and proposes a "Headless Chicken Solution."  This would involve removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken to inhibit its sensory perceptions so that it could be produced in more densely packed conditions without the associated distress. The brain stem for the chicken would be kept intact so that the homeostatic functions continue to operate, allowing it to grow.

Ford proposes this solution for two reasons: To meet the rising demand for meat, particularly poultry, and to improve the welfare of the chickens by desensitizing them to the unpleasant reality of their existence.

An article about the project on the We Make Money Not Art blog notes:

André Ford proposes to adopt a 'headless chicken solution'.
As long as their brain stem is intact, the homeostatic functions of the chicken will continue to operate. By removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken, its sensory perceptions are removed. It can be produced in a denser condition while remaining alive, and oblivious.

The feet will also be removed so the body of the chicken can be packed together in a dense volume.
Food, water and air are delivered via an arterial network and excreta is removed in the same manner. Around 1000 chickens will be packed into each 'leaf', which forms part of a moving, productive system.

The model in the exhibition showed the system in which a chicken would be grown at The Centre for Unconscious Farming. Feed lines provide sustenance, excreata lines remove waste, electrodes stimulate muscle growth.

Ford apparently intended the idea to be taken seriously. But, in reality, it is quite impractical. The cost and logistical difficulties of setting up such a system on a commercial scale would be prohibitive.  And, perhaps hypocritically given the way factory chickens are currently treated, the public indignation and opposition to such a system would be considerable.

In an April 2012 inSCIder blog post about Ford's idea, Science Channel writer Patrick Kiger notes:
So instead, I'll say that [unconscious farming] is about as impractical as dressing a chicken in a chicken-sized long leather coat and sunglasses and trying to teach it to emote like Keanu Reeves. I haven't been able to find a current estimate of the global chicken population, but back in 2002, the Federation of American Scientists came up with a figure of approximately 15.9 billion. Scientists haven't yet developed a surgical robot capable of performing delicate brain surgery on humans, let alone birds, so the procedure would have to be done by hand. If we assume that the world has several hundred thousand veterinarians (the U.S. has about 79,000), and we put them all to work day and night removing chicken craniums and guiding the tiny patients through post-op recuperation...well, you do the math.

Moreover, if we're concerned about ethical, humane treatment of animals, disconnecting chickens' neocortexes and reducing them to the avian equivalent of a vegetative state isn't exactly what Mahatma Gandhi had in mind when he said that a society's moral character can be judged by how it treats animals.

Who knows, perhaps similar food growing systems may be implemented in the future. But, for now at least, Ford's proposal is little more than an abstract and impractical concept, albeit one destined to cause controversy, revulsion, and heated debate as it continues its journey around the interwebs.

Last updated: February 6, 2014
First published: February 6, 2014
By Brett M. Christensen
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