Friends of the Earth Malaysia (FOEM) is highly disturbed to learn of a recent fire in Yong Peng, near Batu Pahat, Johor, in which a chicken coop was razed to the ground along with 74,000 young chicks inside. Although such incidents of fire killing thousands of chickens are sporadic, barn fires capture less public attention than they deserve because they happen in rural areas, often far from major populated centres. However, this should not be taken as a trivial matter by the agriculture authorities, but instead viewed with serious concern.
Being burned alive is said to be the most painful way to die. When the temperatures started rising due to the fire, it created a wildfire like effect, flames racing throughout the chicken house. Birds in factory farms are hyper-confined in ways that even under normal conditions cause severe stress. Add an inescapable death by searing heat, and it’s hard to imagine a worse fate.
Often in such cases, there are too few workers on hand to do anything to help the animals. By the time firefighters arrive it is often too late. The birds will continue to choke and burn to death, while firefighters put their lives at risk to battle the deadly flames. Farm workers and first responders are also put at terrible risk every time one of these fires breaks out.
Even amidst the horrific mass death, chickens are regarded as mere commodities rather than casualties, and their suffering is sadly ignored. The news solely focuses on profit loss, leaving out the anguish of the birds trapped to burn alive. Their deaths often measured by weight and financial loss rather than by number of lives.
The first thought is given to how much money was lost, instead of how many lives were destroyed.
It is a stark reminder that society lends more credence to financial gain and loss than to the unnecessary suffering endured by animals. Though destined to become dinner, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens and ducks are not farm equipment or produce. They are sentient beings capable of experiencing fear and pain, and they deserve to be protected from the inconceivable torture of being burned alive.
The scale of agribusiness facilities, with thousands of birds raised for meat in each shed, and several thousand egg laying hens in each battery cage unit, makes evacuating animals when a fire breaks out virtually impossible.
The lives of farmed animals are continuously filled with misery and deprivation. With more and more animals crammed into tight spaces, confined and unable to escape in an emergency, drastic changes need to be implemented in order to prevent fires from occurring in the first place.
Animals live awful enough lives as it is on dirty, crowded factory farms, and die to supply Malaysians’ demand for meat and animal products. Can society ensure that they at least will not be burnt alive or suffocate to death before we get around to slaughtering them?
As long as our culture continues to view farmed animals as fungible commodities, this allows farmers to dismiss animals as unworthy of protection from horrific fates like death by fire. In a society that considers itself civilized and humane, this is completely unacceptable.
It is time to draw attention to the serious lack of safety regulations and measures applied to agriculture. There are no regulations, no rules, and no recommendations available to prevent the senseless deaths of so many defenseless animals. There is no reason why preventive measures cannot be put in place, even in the form of simple alarms and smoke detectors.
Change is long overdue. Allowing animals to burn to death with no means of escape is yet another manifestation of a broken food system that fails to acknowledge animals as the sensitive individuals they really are.
S M Mohd Idris
Friends of the Earth Malaysia (FOEM)
Featured image credit Suzie’s Farm, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0