'Chickens are friends, not food'

Children outside the Golden Grove Primary School in Cape Town were approached on Tuesday by animal activists who are trying to persuade young people to stop eating chicken. The activists use cards depicting the downside of chicken consumption.

“We want to make children aware that chickens are sensitive and inquisitive animals. They should realise that a chicken is not that much different from the pet they have at home and love so much,” Andrew Butler, campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday.

“We will stand outside the school with a giant chicken.
We will not approach the kids; they will have to come to us. Than they will be given the cards and we will talk to them. We also have information for the parents,” Butler said.

Peta is an international organisation for animal rights that is aiming this campaign at children all over the world. The organisation distributes four different cards.

The card called “Sickly Sally” depicts a sick girl in bed. Her face is green, and all around her are green splashes of puke.

On the back, it says: “Most chickens in stores have germs on them that make you sick, and often those germs are just poop! Sally feels awful after eating that poop-covered germ-filled chicken sandwich. Her head is pounding, her stomach hurts, and she cannot even get out of bed without throwing up.”

“It is a campaign targeted at children between the age of seven and 12. They are supposed to trade the cards with their friends and thus talk about the subject,” Butler said. “We will not disclose all the cruelty that takes place on the chicken farms but we will tell them that the chickens lead a horrible life and die a horrible death.”

The primary school is highly concerned about the distribution of the cards.

“I think it is a really low blow, regardless whether they are right or wrong, or what their message is. It is hitting under the belt to target kids in this way,” James Bailey, principal of the school, told the M&G Online on Tuesday.

“It is a very aggressive language that is targeting primary-school kids who are very pet conscious.

“I don’t think that all the children will be able to distinguish that it concerns a campaign. They might take every word for true.”

Bailey was not informed by the activists that they would campaign outside the school.

“Unfortunately, I cannot stop this campaign because it is taking place outside the school premises.

“I will call for an emergency staff meeting and hopefully I will be able to get as many teachers out there as possible. We will ask the kids not to take the cards,” Bailey said before the campaign started on Tuesday.

Peta is an international organisation. It does not have a branch in South Africa. When campaign coordinator Butler visits South Africa for Peta, he approaches South African-based animal-rights organisations and asks them to join in his campaign.

Peta tries to convince people from all walks of life to stop eating meat.

“We believe children are highly underestimated. They are very capable of making choices and we are trying to inform them properly so that they will, in fact, make a sensible choice,” said Butler.

Scientists do not consider a vegetarian diet to be harmful to children—“provided that the diet is balanced and that the essential nutrients are consumed in the recommended quantities”, André Oelofse, director of the Centre for Nutrition at the University of Pretoria, told the M&G Online.

“Vegetarians should take special care to consume enough varied and high-quality protein, as animal protein is excluded from the diet,” Oelofse said.

Although it is not harmful to them, Oelofse would not recommend vegetarianism for children.

“Children at this age are growing and the quality of their diet is crucial. A vegetarian diet needs management by a knowledgeable person, hence making a general recommendation for children to go on such a diet is not recommendable,” he said.

“Nutrients from animal products are much more bio-available; a balanced prudent non-vegetarian diet could more easily supply in the demands of a growing child.”

According to the South African Poultry Association, the average South African consumes 21,13kg of chicken a year.

The association was not able to comment on the Peta campaign.

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