Thursday 14 November 2013

Chicken deaths, NSA wiretaps: How much do we want to know?

By Kimberly A. Boeckmann and Michael R. Czinkota, Published The Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013

THE Washington Post reported on Oct 29 about the inhumane treatment of poultry on the processing line. Normally, the heads of birds are electrocuted first, and then their necks are cut, followed by scalding and de-feathering. However, 1 per cent of the time the birds survive until they enter the boiling water. Almost a million chickens a year are alive when dunked into scalding water.

Clearly, this article appeals to the emotions of the Post's readers. Some believe this inappropriate chicken mortality to be a drastic case of ''inhumane'' animal killings. But in reality, chicken deaths are not foremost on our minds. After all, chickens are for eating and appear to us mostly in the form of nuggets or other compressed versions. How many of us have seen live chickens apart from those on the chicken retrieval trucks? They have to die somehow, and are, for many of us, not marked by particular attention or friendship.

Take the example of the lobster. If you go to a top-of-the-line seafood restaurant, typically you are given the option to pick out your ''personal'' lobster, live from the tank. Before it makes its way onto your plate, it will be dropped into boiling water, where, after some frantic clawing against the pot with its claws, it will die and be prepared for you. Of course, lobsters can't neigh or bark, and we've always had a certain fear of being attacked by their claws - so there is not too much concern.

Think about the ocean: If tuna fishermen catch some dolphins on the side and they die, we are most unhappy - we even require ''dolphin safe'' tuna meals, if they are to come to the United States. We mourn the wounded and grieve the injuries of dolphins, because we've all seen ''Flipper'', what a cute thing. At the same time we fear and resent the Great White Shark, which is much more endangered than dolphins. But we all remember the movie Jaws and know what that fish is after.

Back to the chicken: 50 years ago, you could pick out your chicken at the market where it was beheaded in front of you. The bird would run around headless until it eventually died from blood loss. At that time, all you were worried about was dinner on your plate.

The deeper focus of this whole matter is that sometimes too much information is not seen as helpful. Ultimately, we do not want to know nor do we sufficiently care about the process of how our poultry is slaughtered. As long as the bird is sufficiently cleaned and later cooked, we will not make a fuss. It will taste the same in the end and serve the same purpose of filling our stomachs.

This same procedure and ideal can be applied to the recent National Security Agency (NSA) accusations of the US spying on foreign nations' top officials. We simply prefer not to know and we think that foreign dignitaries should not know either, nor should they worry. Naturally, we all assumed that such spying occurred on some level, given the advances in technology in addition to national security purposes. The time when ''gentlemen did not read other gentlemen's mail'' has long passed. We know what is needed and we do what needs to be done. Therefore, the question remains, were we really that surprised?

That's what chickens have in common with the NSA. As long as they give us a good product, it's probably best not to discuss the process which leads to the product. After all, we're all friends.

Michael Czinkota researches international business and marketing issues at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. His book (with Ilkka Ronkainen) on International Marketing is in its 10th edition.

Kimberly Boeckmann is a junior at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business pursuing a double major in International Business and Management. She has been working with Professor Czinkota since January.

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