It’s unfortunately not surprising that almost all chickens raised for their meat—often called “broiler” chickens—are, like other factory farmed animals, raised in horrendous conditions where they suffer constantly. But less well known is that the core problem starts long before these birds are even born: in effect, these birds are bred to suffer.
Hidden behind closed doors of factory farms, most of the nearly nine billion chickens raised in the U.S. for their meat (as opposed to eggs) each year are selectively bred to grow so large, so fast that they can barely move or stand. With unnaturally large “white meat” breasts and bones that can’t support their obese and disproportionate bodies, many of these birds spend most of their lives lying down in their own waste with open sores and wounds that act as gateways to infection.
These growth problems make it especially hard for these birds to endure the awful conditions they live in. It’s common for 20,000 chickens to live crammed in one shed that provides less than one square foot of space for each animal. Another common practice is to keep these sheds dimly lit for 20 hours each day to keep the birds awake and eating constantly. While these and other conditions must absolutely be addressed by the industry, the industry must also get to the core of the problem by breeding slower-growing chickens.
The chicken industry prioritizes efficiency and profit at the expense of animal welfare, but its practices may also be putting consumers’ health at risk. To learn more about the animal welfare implications of today’s industrial farming practices as well as potential human health effects, visit our Issues & Alternatives page.
Survey after survey shows that Americans want their food to come from animals who are healthy, treated well and safe to eat. This is not the case with most of today’s chickens. Animal welfare can be greatly improved by switching to slower-growing chickens raised in better conditions. Oversight by government and other legal protections are virtually non-existent, so the ASPCA is calling on the chicken industry to make these changes.
- University of Arkansas “Pulminary Arterial Hypertension (ascites syndrome) in Broilers: A review” January 2013
- National Chicken Council “About the Industry” Accessed August 28, 2013
- WATTAgNet “Look for a big jump in broiler weights this year” May 15, 2013
- Center for Science in the Public Interest “Outbreak Alert! 2001 – 2010”
- PEW Center for Liveable Future “Letter from CDC Director Thomas Frieden to Johns Hopkins on link between farm animals and antibiotic resistance”