Fight Cruelty

Factory Farmed Chicken: Issues and Alternatives

Growing Pains

Photo courtesy of New Zealand Open Rescue. NZ, 2006

  • Most of the nearly 9 billion chickens bred for their meat are designed to grow fast and huge for disproportionately large breasts, causing high rates of lameness, skin burns, metabolic diseases and early death. These chickens struggle to move and stand up.
  • Bred for ravenous hunger, chickens eat continuously and gain weight so rapidly that many collapse and die from heart failure at just a few weeks of age.

No Room to Move

Hundreds of chickens crammed together

United States, 2014

  • It is not unusual for 20,000 chickens to be tightly crammed into one shed, causing immobility, frustration, sleep deprivation, and disease susceptibility, leading to the constant feeding of preventative antibiotics to ward off infection.
  • Birds’ lack of movement combined with their genetics means they gain weight at a rapid pace, putting enormous stress on their bodies.

Disruptive Lighting and Constant Eating

Chickens on a factory farm

United States, 2014

• Chicken sheds are typically lit with dim, artificial light for 20 hours each day to keep chickens awake and eating constantly, preventing them from resting and speeding their already unnaturally fast growth rate.

Barren Sheds

Chicken on a factory farm with weak legs

United States, 2014

  • Most chicken sheds are barren of any enrichment devices, providing chickens with little ability or incentive to exercise and strengthen their legs and leaving no place for them to seek shelter from each other.

Potential Human Health Risks

  • Chicken caused more foodborne illness outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths between 1998 and 2010 than any other meat in the American food supply, according to Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Risky Meat report.
  • A 2010 Consumer Reports analysis of fresh, whole chicken purchased from more than 100 supermarkets in 22 states found that two-thirds of the samples contained salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease. Over 60% of the bacteria found were resistant to at least one antibiotic.
  • In 2013, researchers at the University of Georgia looked at the prevalence of salmonella and campylobacter at large chicken farms and found that high levels of these bacteria on the farm corresponded to high levels on carcasses at the plant where chickens from that farm are processed for slaughter. “This study suggests that reducing foodborne pathogen loads on broiler chicken farms would help to reduce pathogen loads at processing, and may ultimately help to reduce the risk of foodborne illness,” said Roy Berghaus, an author of the study, in a press release.
  • Chickens’ fast and debilitating growth rates have been reported to weaken their immune systems and increase the time they spend lying down in their own feces, causing sores and open wounds that can get infected. Lowered immunity, high rates of contact sores, along with cramped, unclean conditions, can all potentially contribute to high rates of foodborne illnesses related to chicken.
  • The common industry practice of feeding chickens constant, low levels of antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease in crowded sheds poses a risk to human health by creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

No Oversight

  • Neither the USDA nor the FDA is required to regulate or inspect the on-farm treatment of chickens (or other farm animals).
  • The federal laws that do address farm animals apply to slaughterhouses and transport, not their treatment on the farm.
  • Chickens are not included in the federal laws and regulations that provide for humane transport and slaughter of animals, as they've been deemed to be neither "animals" nor "livestock” under current laws and regulations.

Alternative Systems

There are a small number of farms in the U.S. that are raising slower growing breeds of chickens in higher welfare conditions.

Visit our farmer testimony page to hear why certain farmers have chosen to raise slower growing birds.

Visit our Welfare-Conscious Choices page to learn about animal products that are independently certified according to published welfare standards with regular on-farm audits.

Large-scale farms can improve chickens’ overall welfare and reduce the risk of foodborne illness by switching to slower growing birds and giving them better living conditions. Visit to tell the industry to make this change.