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Right to life for poultry amid covid-19

“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.” – Article 21, Constitution of India
Overtime this right has been debated and updated. As it expanded beyond mere existence to living with the dignity due to the evolving nature of our constitution, we seem to have left behind the other living creatures we share this country with, especially the ones who are deemed acceptable for consumption by human beings. Every living being deserves dignity in life and in death which has been highlighted again during the current pandemic. It is in animals as well as humans’ interest to put an end to the cruel practices which poultry is subjected to.
The covid-19 pandemic is perhaps the biggest challenge in terms of scale and spread human beings have faced in the 21st century. Declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11th March, it has spread at an unprecedented rate throughout the world and currently affects the US, Brazil and India the most. The pandemic has triggered strong anti-Chinese sentiment around the globe due to its spread throughout. It has also provoked dislike against the source of the virus, the wet market in Wuhan called the Huanan seafood wholesale market which sold live and dead bats, snakes and porcupines among other animals. Even after the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS pandemic which was caused by similar conditions, these markets were not shut down as they are a staple food for many people at low cost in south China. China reopened the markets shortly after SARS was contained and did not take any action to put sanitary regulations on these markets.
Along with China, every country including India must be made to give up factory farming as it is extremely unhygienic and cruel conditions. As the criticism towards the Chinese wet markets grows for their treatment of wild and poultry animals, it is essential that we examine our wet markets and how we treat our own poultry before claiming the moral high ground.
Vegetarianism forms a large part of the Indian cuisine but the notion that India is a largely vegetarian country as a byproduct of its Hindu majority is a myth. Even though India has one of the lowest consumption of meat in the world, according to three large-scale Indian surveys; only 23% – 37% of Indians are vegetarian. In the twentieth century, as the world got more global and people were exploring other cultures, more and more Indians turned non-vegetarian. The output of eggs and broilers increased by 8-10% and as a result, India became the 5th biggest egg-producing country in the world and the 18th largest broiler maker. Traditional practices of breeding and rearing stocks were not able to cope with this, and the phenomenon of animal farming was introduced to India soon after.
Advances in innovation and technology allowed year-long period for egg and meat production while maximizing the capacity of poultry bred in a limited space. The male chickens cannot lay eggs and do not grow up to a size big enough for meat production, so they’re killed immediately after hatching which is arguably better than what the females are subjected to. At 16 weeks they’re put in battery cages placed side by side where they’re placed on top of each other, they cannot move and are stressed out. When they are just a couple of days old, staff chop off their beaks with a blistering-hot blade without any painkillers to keep them from pecking each other from irritation induced by prolonged captivity in cramped cages. Egg-laying hens are starved and not given any water for weeks to shock their bodies into moulting. One chicken gets less space than an A4 sheet to live and are disallowed their natural behaviour until they’re slaughtered while their factory owners claim they carry out the process “humanely”. The Animal Welfare Board of India, the primary government animal rights’ body in India released guidance with effect from 16 February 2012 according to section 4 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, that explicitly indicated that shackling hens to battery cages is in breach section 11(1)(e) of the PCA Act, 1960, expressly prohibiting this action. It’s been more than eight years since the advisory has been imposed, but battery cages largely still remain conventional egg-sector fixtures.
All of this does not just severely affect the animals and possibility of the flourishing of zoonotic diseases but also has an immediate effect on the populations that live around those factories; it also pollutes the land and water around it. The utter lack of compassion for these animals which are only seen as meat and denied dignity in their life and death is appalling but unfortunately normalized in our world.
In 2014 due to atrocities against bulls during the annual Jallikattu festival the Supreme Court expanded article 21 to animals in the case of Animal Welfare Board of India v. Nagaraja and Others, a historic judgment which gave way to other rulings in animals’ favour. Acknowledging animals have intrinsic worth, “The entire animal kingdom” was declared legal entity by the Uttrakhand High Court on July 5th, 2018 in Narayan Dutt Bhatt v Union Of India. The same was reiterated on 31st May 2019 by the high court of Punjab and Haryana in the case of Karnail Singh and others v The State of Haryana. Furthermore, in Gujarat v. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat & Ors, Supreme Court held that by promulgating Article 51A(g) and making it a fundamental duty, the aim of the  Parliament is to guarantee that the essence Articles 48 and 48A are respected by all citizens. According to Article 51-A (g) every citizen of India shall have a duty to protect and improve the natural environment including wildlife, forests, lakes, rivers and to have compassion for living creatures. The poultry industries should not be exempted from this constitutional and moral compliance because they’re allowed to eventually kill certain animals. Even in these circumstances, they are under obligation to follow the procedure provided by the current regulations.
It is clear that the standards within article 21 vary vastly between wildlife and poultry and the difference is increased many folds when compared to a human being. The aim of the Supreme Court does not seem to be to provide identical rights and privileges to these animals but to put an end to the suffering that animals born and die within. Efficient fulfilment of the new-laid down regulations is required to be applied to the egg and meat industries that subject chickens and other poultry to filthy living conditions, intensive confining, mutilating, and barbaric killing practices. In an ideal society, animal welfare laws would eradicate all mistreatment, since pets should not even be bred and purchased, fish should not be in anything other than the sea and no animals should be slaughtered for human consumption at all. The road towards achieving that is making the living conditions of animals to be better.
In 2017 The Ministry of Law and Justice asked the Law Commission to conduct a study on the laws and practices on the transport and preservation of hens. The main recommendation of the committee was to ban battery cages along with certifying poultry farms by The State Departments for Animal Husbandry. PETA India also contributed with their recommendations. Regulations such as Prevention of Animal Cruelty (Egg Laying Hens) Rules, 2017′ and ‘Prevention of Animal Cruelty (Broiler Chickens) Rules, 2017 originated from this report
If not for these animals, these meat industries need to think about mankind, it is in human beings’ interest to have more hygienic practices even if it raises the costs of production of meat. The lesson we keep refusing to learn is that we cannot keep harming nature and not have it harm us back directly or indirectly. Viruses have been known to originate in animals which jump to humans, such as the flu which came from birds and pigs, HIV which came from chimpanzees and the deadly Ebola virus likely originated in bats. Zoonotic diseases are a result of harming animals and their habitats. We cannot keep harming the environment including animals without suffering dire consequences. These animals deserve our respect and protection.  The least we can do is end to their avoidable and needless misery.




Asmita Kandari is a 4th-year law student at Amity Law School Delhi (GGSIPU).

In Content Picture Credit: Deccan Herald

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