Dalai Lama: Kentucky Fried Chicken Not Good for Tibet

NEW DELHI, India, June 25, 2004 (ENS) - The Dalai Lama has requested that the parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken refrain from opening fast food outlets in his homeland of Tibet.

In a June 22 letter to David Novak, CEO of Yum! Restaurants, written on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and released by the U.S. group on Thursday, the exiled Tibetan leader says that "your corporation's support for cruelty and mass slaughter violate Tibetan value."

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, Yum! Restaurants announced the grand opening of its 1,000th Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in China in January. "China today makes almost as much money as the United States KFC business," the company says.

Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the head of state and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. (Photo courtesy TCC)
In his letter, the Dalai Lama said he has been "particularly concerned with the sufferings of chickens for many years."

He recounts that it was witnessing the death of a chicken that strengthened his resolve to become a vegetarian. "In 1965, I was staying at a Government Guest House in south India. My room looked directly on to the kitchens opposite. One day I chanced to see the slaughter of a chicken, which made me decide to become a vegetarian."

Tibetans are not generally vegetarians, because in the high, arid Tibetan lands vegetables are not common and most people rely on meat for a large part of their diet.

But the Dalai Lama explains in his letter that "it was considered more ethical to eat the meat of larger animals such as yaks than small ones, because fewer large animals would have to be killed."

"For this reason," he writes, "consumption of fish and chicken was rare, in fact traditionally we thought of chickens only as a source of eggs, not as food themselves, and even eggs were seldom eaten because they were thought to dull the sharpness of mind and memory."

"Eating chicken only really began with the arrival of the Chinese communists," he explains, having fled his country in 1959 to avoid death at the hands of the invaders.

Dalai Lama Today, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the head of state and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He is the recipient of numerous human rights and humanitarian awards, including the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

He lives in the mountain town of Dharamsala in northern India, where he maintains a government in exile.

"These days, when I see a row of plucked chickens hanging in a meat shop it hurts," he wrote in the letter to Novak. "I find it unacceptable that violence is the basis of some of our food habits."

"When I am driving through the towns near where I live in India I see thousands of chickens in cages outside restaurants ready to be killed. When I see them I feel very sad, because in the heat they have no shade or relief, and in the cold they have no shelter from the wind. These poor chickens are treated as if they were merely vegetables," he wrote.

The Dalai Lama explained that in Tibet, buying animals from the butcher and releasing them to save their lives was a common practice, and said that even in exile, many Tibetans continue this practice.

"It is therefore quite natural for me to support those who are currently protesting against the introduction of industrial food practices into Tibet that will perpetuate the suffering of huge numbers of chickens," he wrote.

Currently, Kentucky Fried Chicken operates in every Chinese province and region except Tibet. Yum! Restaurants says that Kentucky Fried Chicken has wide consumer appeal and is considered the most popular international brand throughout China, ranking higher than all others, according to a consumer survey conducted by ACNielsen.

The company's representative in Beijing said in January it had plans to enter Tibet, but did not say when.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) calls chickens "the most abused animals on the face of the planet." The group's engagement of the Dalai Lama in its campaign is the latest tactic in a long effort to change the practices of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Chickens feel pain, and have "distinct personalities and intelligence," says PETA, which has detailed recommendations for diminishing the suffering of chickens as they are slaughtered for food.

PETA recommends that the current slaughter methods of electrical stunning and throat slicing be replaced with killing by means of inert gas mixtures - such as nitrogen or argon in air with no more than two percent residual oxygen. This mixture can be breathed, undetected, by animals. It is "the most humane method of gassing poultry available and can be used to create a non-aversive atmosphere where birds die painlessly," PETA says.

See the details of PETA's campaign against cruelty to chickens at: http://www.kfccruelty.com/animals.asp