In 2007 the EU Agriculture Council agreed a new European Directive setting minimum welfare standards for rearing chickens for meat production.
Rapid growth leads to unacceptable suffering
FOUR PAWS believes Council Directive 2007/43/EC laying down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production does almost nothing to improve the welfare of the 5½ billion chickens reared for meat annually in the EU – 850 million of these are reared each year in the UK. It permits maximum stocking densities of 33 – 39 kg per square metre (and up to 42 kg/m2 if certain conditions are met). This means up to 20 chickens could be crammed into every square metre.
Chickens have been selectively bred to reach slaughter weight in around 40 days – twice as fast as 30 years ago. This rapid growth means that their legs and heart are often unable to support their overgrown bodies and millions suffer from painful leg disorders or heart failure even though they are only a few weeks old. Incredibly, more than a quarter of meat chickens are moderately or severely lame and mortality is seven times that of laying hens of the same age. The Directive does nothing to address the welfare problems caused by unnaturally fast growth rates and defers looking at this issue until 2010.
As the birds grow, the litter on the floor of the overcrowded sheds can become increasingly wet and dirty with the birds’ waste. Standing and lying on wet litter can lead to the development of painful sores on the birds’ feet, hocks and breast.
The birds that are kept for breeding suffer from chronic hunger because they are fed a restricted diet to prevent them putting on so much weight that they would be unlikely to survive to maturity or would be likely to be infertile.
FOUR PAWS asks for the following improvements:
· Excessively fast growth rates should be prohibited
· Stocking density should be reduced
· Extreme feed restriction of breeding birds should be prohibited
Less intensive systems can provide better welfare for chickens. Extensive indoor systems give more space and often provide environmental enrichment such as straw bales. Free range systems provide outdoor access and the birds grow more slowly as they must be at least 56 days old at slaughter. Organic systems also provide outdoor access (with more space than required for free-range) and the birds are slower-growing, typically living for twice as long as intensively reared chickens.
What you can do
· Join Four Paws and support our work to improve the welfare of chickens farmed for meat
· Avoid buying intensively reared chicken, including in prepared products, sandwiches, ready meals and in restaurants, and encourage friends and family to do the same
· Try vegetarian alternatives or, if you do buy chicken, look for organic or free range
· Ask your local supermarket or restaurant about the welfare standards for their chicken and ask them to offer more higher welfare options
· Write to your local newspaper to highlight the welfare problems of chickens farmed for meat or ask your local radio station to cover the issue.