Billions of chickens around the world are raised in cruel, crowded and intensive farm systems every year. Genetically selected to grow fast and develop large, heavy breast muscles ‘too big for their legs to support’ they can experience great pain and suffering. The combination of fast growth and crowded conditions causes serious welfare issues such as leg problems and skin problems from constant contact with wet and dirty litter.
The report was carried out for World Animal Protection by Wageningen University in the Netherlands, world leaders in agricultural research. It found that shifting from ‘conventional’ systems to higher welfare indoor systems increases production by no more than 13.4% above conventional production costs, which is much lower than increases of up to 49% previously projected by a US industry-funded study.
Countries included in this report are China, Thailand and the United States. However, given the consistent methods in how 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 (eviscerated weight) and food availability of chicken was 34.6 kilograms per person.
And although consumption is high, consumer demand for better welfare for chickens is increasing worldwide at a rate that producers and retailers cannot ignore.
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.
Some retailers are paying attention to consumer expectation. Earlier this month for example, KFC branches in Europe, including the U.K and Germany, announced chicken welfare will be improved by 2026.
Lynn Kavanagh, Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection Canada, says the Canadian chicken industry should realize this is the way the world is moving.
“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.”
Kavanagh adds that Canada also exports chickens to some of the countries featured in the report and therefore should be a leader in developing a better system.
The solutions proposed in the report to give intensively farmed chickens better lives can be easily introduced to most existing systems and include:
- Provision of ‘enrichment’ – perches or platforms, plus grain or other materials to peck. Floor based litter for dust bathing, comfort, 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.
- The use of slower growing birds with proven higher welfare outcomes to avoid the health problems caused by unnatural fast growth.
Seeing how it is possible to develop higher welfare at a reasonable cost, there is no excuse to continue the current practices which cause so much unnecessary suffering to chickens.