The scene is harrowing. Bins filled with living gold fluff, the bodies of chicks readied for slaughter. There is, of course, nothing new about slaughtering huge numbers of poultry, a process that takes place everyday. The Krasnaya Polyana poultry farm in the Kursk region has offered another angle on brutality in the industry. Given that the birds can’t be fed (or so the official story goes), those in the employ of the farm have hit upon a particularly crude solution.
More than a million birds have been destroyed (some through human agency, others through malnutrition), with three more million to follow, discloses Dmitry Noskov , the spokesman for Krasnaya Polyana’s poultry farm. Some birds met their fate in a pit, buried by tractor. Others were placed in barrels, covered in water, and left to freeze in the fields. A grief stricken female attendant had only this to say: ‘It’s like a mother killing her child!’ (Eg.Ru Daily, Dec 15). Images of distraught employees going about their deadly business have made their way to the press.
The reasons for this are corporate – cited bankruptcy and the risk to jobs at the farm. The owner Alexander Chetverikov, who is also a member of the Russian parliament, suspects foul play. His enemies, he argues, have set out to ruin his business with maximum effect, forcing it into a bankruptcy amounting to $190,000 in tax debt. As a member of the Just Russia Party, he claims that he was a ripe target for officials of the regional government run by United Russia.
Deputy head of the Zheleznogorsk district administration Viktor Alyoshechkin has little time for such allegations. ‘Instead of resolving the economic issues, he deliberately politicized the conflict, incited the workers and organized a demonstration’ (LA Times, Dec 17). Jobs will be lost. 1700 poultry workers and 10,000 subcontractors will be dismissed. All of this has come on the heels of masked riot police who raided the farm’s administrative building in November, and a protest staged in front of the district administration’s quarters after the farm’s electricity was switched off.
The incident highlights a global problem in the poultry industry between economics and production. Even in the absence of vendettas and corruption, brutality is a common currency in the poultry industry. The appraisal of the chicken as a creature somewhat lesser in status than other animals is evident by the sheer disdain shown by authorities to their care. England’s celebrity chef Jamie Oliver ran a publicity campaign in 2008 seeking to expose the innate cruelties in the British poultry and egg industry by electrocuting live chickens on screen. In another episode, he shows how male chicks unsuitable to producing eggs are suffocated in an oxygen-staffed chamber. The economic realities are also present – slaughtering many for little. Farmers were ‘being pushed and pushed and are at the limit. One farmer is earning 2p a bird so has to kill 50 animals to make a quid. Where can they go from there?’ (Evening Standard, Jan 8, 2010).
It is virtually impossible to know what exactly is lurking behind the scenes at Krasnaya Polyana. In a country where the law is often drawn as a shield to commit extra-legal activities, Chetverikov may have a point. On the other hand, his financial acumen might well have deserted him. The refusal on the part of all parties to find some solution that could involve saving the animals is nothing short of dire. Vasily Mezhevikin, head of the Russian Agriculture Ministry’s food industry department, was puzzled, telling the LA Times (Dec 17) that he was baffled why ‘they are killing their poultry and not selling it to the population as they should.’
In the end, humans have paid with their jobs, and possibly millions of chickens with their lives. The paper Komsomolskaya Pravda has begun a campaign to rescue the surviving poultry. ‘Let’s try to save the poor chickens.’ It is not clear how successful this effort has been, but for a country which imports at least 70 percent of its food, many will hope that it will at least be partly successful.