Quickly becoming the voice of a generation, John Oliver has ranted and raved his way into the hearts of viewers with talking about controversial topics. From his seat behind the desk on Last Week Tonight he has skewered FIFA, mandatory minimum jail sentences, daylight savings time, stadium spending, food waste, and online harassment. He has also turned his sights to the food animal industry, most specifically poultry farms and the deplorable conditions for both the animals and humans involved in them.
In a main topic segment that aired in early summer 2015, Oliver discussed the way poultry farms are currently run in the United States. He shed light on how inhumanely the chickens are treated on these farms, and how hard it is for farmers working under contract with the big chicken distributors. They are heavily restricted in how they keep the chickens, how they raise them and care for them, and how they will get paid for them. Many people go into chicken farming under the impression they will be able to make a reasonable living at it, but much of the time the amount they are forced to spend to meet the demands of the distributors is greater than what they earn from selling the chickens after raising them.
In order to produce as much food material as possible as quickly as possible, the distributors often demand that barns meet certain requirements, such as less space for the chickens to move around. Even if the farmers want to build barns with lots of natural light, space to move around, and proper ventilation systems to keep the air fresh, the distributors will make demands that lead to completely different kinds of buildings to raise their poultry in. And if they do not meet these demands they can have their contract with the distributors taken away. Or they may not be able to sell their grown chickens for enough money to keep their farm operating.
And of course the chickens being raised in this system suffer greatly throughout their short lives. They are kept in darkness for most of the day, given very little room to exercise, and often live in areas full of feces, feathers, and food waste. They are forced to grow to maturity more quickly than normal so that they can be sold for as much money as possible as soon as possible. The conditions are downright deplorable no matter how you look at it, a fact which Oliver points out quickly and forcefully.
There is nothing positive about this system that runs on mistreatment. Farmers are abused and taken advantage of by their higher-ups who have no concern for their well-being and financial stability. In turn, this leads to cruel and unnecessary animal abuse in which chickens aren’t even given a chance to live the best quality life they deserve. The ASPCA points out that 8.54 billion chickens are killed each year to feed America and 99% of these killings happen in factory farms.
And if this wasn’t enough, the environment has been taking a beating as well. According to Epcor, an outrageous amount of energy is needed to upkeep industrial farms. From transporting livestock and animal products to the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, valuable energy and fossil fuels are used up daily. Despite the painfully obvious corruption within these farms, there is very little that can legally be done at this point to stop any of these issues.
While his segment on poultry farming was recent, that was not the first time John Oliver has gone to bat for animals and the environment. In 2014 he held a climate change debate with three climate change dissenters, Bill Nye, and 96 scientists who agree that climate change is a very real, very serious issue. And on Earth Day he talked again about climate change and the effect it is having on the natural world. He brought up the plight of the Polar bear, which is not only losing its natural habitat, but its ability to breed because of changes in the climate.
As his show gains in popularity and viewership, John Oliver takes on more and more heavy topics that need to be addressed. He has had no problem attacking the government and corporate industry on animal cruelty in the past and it will be interesting to see how he champions for animal rights in the near future.
*Image courtesy Flickr Creative Commons.