How to reduce suffering for billions of chickens
Billions of chickens around the world are raised in cruel, crowded and intensive farm systems every year. There is a better way—and it’s less costly than you might think.
In intensive farming systems, chickens have been genetically bred to grow fast and develop large, heavy breast muscles – too big for their legs to support. Many experience great pain and suffering as a result. This rapid growth stresses the bird’s legs and joints causing painful leg injuries, sometimes so severe the birds can no longer walk. Barren, crowded environments cause skin problems from constant contact with wet and dirty litter.
These birds never get the chance to see sunlight, to grow at a natural rate or the freedom to express themselves naturally. And major fast food chains are profiting from this pain.
The economics of higher welfare
Our new report, “Valuing Higher Welfare Chicken”, found that producing chicken in better conditions is far cheaper than previously believed. The findings mean that billions of chickens around the world could suffer less as cost can no longer be used as an excuse by restaurants, retailers and producers.
Research conducted by Wageningen University in the Netherlands, world leaders in agricultural research, found that moving from ‘conventional’, intensive systems to higher welfare indoor systems increases production costs by only 6.4-13.4%. Previous projections from a US industry-funded study indicated that production costs could increase by up to 49%.
Countries included in this report are China, Thailand and the United States. However, given the consistent methods in which chicken production occurs across the globe, there is no reason to believe the cost increase for higher welfare systems isn’t similar in Canada. Working towards higher welfare should therefore be possible in Canada too.
Chicken is a popular, cheap meat in Canada. In 2018, the country produced chicken products worth $2.7 billion. That same year, Canada produced 1.3 billion kilograms of chicken, and food availability of chicken was 34.6 kilograms per person.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about the poor conditions in which chickens are raised and many are willing to pay more for higher welfare animal products.
There is a real opportunity here for the industry to improve the lives of billions of chickens globally. The higher welfare indoor system is realistic and scientifically supported. We urge the chicken industry, retailers and restaurants to adopt better standards for birds here in Canada and worldwide. Every animal should have a life worth living and, if improvements are implemented, they can bring a significant change for chickens.
The improvements proposed in the report to give intensively farmed chickens better lives can be easily introduced to most existing systems:
- Provide ‘enrichment’ – perches or platforms, plus grain or other materials to peck. Floor based litter is essential for dustbathing, comfort, and feather and feet health – all of which are proven to help chickens fulfil their natural behaviours
- Six hours of continuous darkness per day – allowing the birds better development and natural resting time as opposed to shorter, disturbed periods, with more illumination during daylight hours
- The use of slower growing birds with proven higher welfare outcomes to avoid the health problems caused by unnatural fast growth
- Fewer birds per area – maximum 30kg/m2 (6lb/ft2) would allow the chickens room to move and spread their wings, to better use enrichments, and would reduce leg problems
How you can help
Last fall, over half a million people around the world demanded that KFC do better for chickens, and recently, KFC committed to improving the lives of chickens in six European countries: UK, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium.
Our recent report shows us that it is doable to improve life for billions of chickens. Let’s keep the momentum going by asking KFC Canada to make a commitment for chickens raised in Canada: