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Do you feel guilty eating Kentucky Fried?

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

The other day I received a phone call from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The polite young woman at the other end wanted to know if I had received a fax about their new billboard near the Mass Pike.

I think I've been on the PETA list ever since I covered a protest they staged in front of a Petco at which one of their volunteers dressed up as giant parrot.

I said I would be happy to look at it and she asked if I wanted to do a story about it. I told her that I wouldn't really know until I looked at the fax.

The fax had a brief press release and a mock-up of the billboard. PETA is trying to get Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to change how its chickens are raised. PETA maintains that there are less cruel ways to raise the chickens that wind up in the Colonel's deep-fat fryers.

To hammer this point home, actress Pamela Anderson is pictured on the billboard as a PETA spokesperson. Somehow Anderson's statement and image are to persuade me to give up my KFC habit.

I understand the point PETA is raising. Factory farms do have conditions which would shock most people.

Having been a farm boy myself (we raised chicken, steers and pigs for meat) I know that treating animals in a more humane manner can be done, although it costs more money and time.

Giving chickens the chance to have room outdoors to run about is much better than caging them or crowding them in a large building.

Making sure they have clean feed and water is essential as chickens are not the most discriminate beasts about where they perform their bodily functions.

From a personality point of view, chickens have none. They have some disturbing social habits as well. The phrase "pecking order" is taken straight from nature.

I never felt guilty eating a chicken, although the year I plucked 150 of them I must admit that every time my mom cooked one of the birds, all she and I could smell is wet feathers. That put the two of us off chicken for quite some time.

So while I do think PETA is right in discussing this issue, I'd be even more sympathetic if they were speaking about pigs.

I heard for years growing up that pigs are "dirty." Nothing could be further from the truth. We kept our swine in a large enclosure at the edge of a pine forest on our property. The pigs slept in one corner under a shelter, ate in another and did their business in another.

They were only "dirty" when we would create a wallow for them in the summer so they could cool off in the mud, which also helped protect them from biting insects.

The pigs were intelligent and friendly. I hated the day we loaded them up for their trip to the slaughterhouse.

The problem with PETA is that they really don't want more humane conditions for domestic animals. What they really want is for us to be vegetarians or perhaps vegans.

That is, of course a much harder sell. It's easier for many of us me included to pass by KFC as a matter of protest than to give up cooking chicken at home.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent the views of Reminder Publications' publishers or advertisers.