Meaningful change for chickens
The Better Chicken Initiative (BCI) is Compassion in World Farming’s flagship program in the United States. Its mission is simple: to improve the lives of chickens raised for meat—which comprise approximately 95% of farmed animals in America—through meaningful corporate engagement and public outreach.
Launched in 2014, what began as a small program with a handful of corporate partners has expanded and evolved as market opportunities, animal science, and public awareness have shifted in favor of higher welfare. Since the BCI’s inception, Compassion has forged meaningful relationships with food giants in every sector—including Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, Panera Bread, and Perdue Farms—to help these brands achieve measurable change in the lives of chickens.
Because they deserve better...and so do you.
Did you know that 95% of all farmed animals in America are chickens raised for meat? That’s more than 9 billion birds every single year. Chickens are consumed far more than any other farmed animal—and because of cruel factory farming practices, they suffer more, too: The industry has dramatically degraded their living conditions, dangerously warped their genetics, and cut corners to ramp up production. And both chickens and consumers are paying the price.
Luckily, there’s a better way. And thanks to conscious consumers like you, big change is on the horizon.
What we need: A better breed of bird, with a better environment.
We believe that chickens should be allowed to be chickens. That means more room to roam, enrichment that encourages natural behavior, access to natural light, cleaner litter, and healthier genetics that don’t inherently cause suffering. It means better breed of bird, one that grows at a healthier rate and lives its life without chronic pain. And it means increased corporate transparency so consumers can hold food companies accountable. We're calling on food businesses to offer chickens:
- Healthier genetics
- More space
- Enriched environments to encourage natural behavior
- A better method of slaughter
- Compliance with a meaningful third party animal welfare certification and annual reporting
What we have: Factory farming.
Chickens raised on factory farms spend their days in overcrowded, unsanitary sheds, which are often devoid of natural light and house tens of thousands of chickens at a time. These crowded conditions mean that the average bird has little room to roam, spread her wings, or turn around—in fact, each chicken generally spends her life in a space roughly the size of a sheet of paper or an iPad.
What’s more, chickens on factory farms aren’t given the freedom to express the natural behaviors that let birds be birds. Besides food, water—and often, dirty litter—chickens are provided no enrichment to keep their minds active, no perches to stand on, and no dust to bathe with.
And they aren’t only limited by their surroundings—today’s modern broiler chicken is a prisoner of their own body. To increase yield, chicken companies have selectively bred birds to grow very big, very fast, and that effort has had disastrous unintended consequences for animal welfare. Their unnaturally fast growth often results in severe—and sometimes life-threatening—health and mobility problems: Chickens can grow so large that they struggle to stand under their own weight.
A regular chicken spends most of their life on the move. A factory-farmed chicken often spends most of their life on the floor.
Their fast-growth genetics puts significant strain on their heart, lungs, and immune systems, and can cause harmful leg deformity and injury. Even worse, we now know that fast growth contributes to severe muscle disorders, similar to muscular dystrophy in humans. This means that in addition to their poor living conditions, birds experience inescapable chronic pain for most of their lives.
And it means that chicken is no longer the lean meat we thought it was.
In addition to being harmful to the animals, the muscle disorders that cause constant pain for chickens when they’re alive also degrade the quality of their meat after slaughter. Known in the industry as “woody breast,” “deep pectoral myopathy,” and “white striping,” these disorders result in muscle with more fat and indigestible collagen. Not only do these conditions make the meat tough, gummy, and more difficult to eat—they make it far less nutritious.
Meat impacted by these disorders has less protein, and even more shockingly: it can have up to 224% more fat.
Factory farming is bad for chickens, bad for consumers, and it’s even bad for business—chicken companies throw away much of the tough, low quality meat people won’t eat, or end up selling it at lower prices to be made into processed chicken products. These companies lose an estimated $200 million every year from muscle disorders related to fast growth. Why maintain such a financially unsustainable system?
I support the Better Chicken Initiative because I want to raise the bar of standard chickens to a totally different level—one that is affordable, accessible, and that I would feed to my own kids.
- Jamie Oliver, celebrity chef and activist
For more information on sourcing better chicken—as well as the growing list of plant-based meat alternatives on the market today—check out our free, downloadable Compassionate Food Guide!
Unlikely partnerships bring change from within.
As animal advocates, we are forging unlikely partnerships with chicken factory farm owners, more and more of whom are speaking out about the way our chickens are raised—and the way farmers and farm workers are treated. Together with conscious consumers like you, we are amplifying the call for better chicken.
In 2014, Craig Watts, a brave contract farmer for Perdue, reached his breaking point and opened the doors of his chicken houses to the world by inviting us to film inside. The public was shocked by the conditions of a standard chicken farm. “Craig and I realized that we wanted the same thing,” said Leah Garces, our Executive Director. “We want to reform the chicken industry, and we have to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to achieve that.” Afterwards, Perdue became the first major chicken company to publish a detailed animal welfare policy, pledging to share transparent metrics to be held accountable for animal welfare.
Another top chicken company, Pilgrim's Pride, sent a letter to its contract farmers saying they should not let anyone, apart from essential personnel, into their chicken houses for “biosecurity and confidentiality” reasons. What were they hiding? Thanks to courageous whistleblower farmers Mike Weaver and Eric Hedrick, we now know the truth. We gave them video cameras to film what was going on behind closed doors and show us the reality of factory farming, and what they found was shocking. The New York Times featured our exposé of the rampant disease plaguing the birds that end up on Americans’ dinner plates.
There is nothing natural about factory farming; not for the chickens, not for the families that raise them, and not for consumers. With more farmers blowing the whistle on factory farming, and more consumers demanding better, we will fix our broken food system together.
Meaningful progress has been made, and more is on the way.
We work hand-in-hand with forward-thinking food businesses at every level and in every industry to improve the lives of chickens across their supply chains. Thanks to you, food industry leaders have already started stepping up for chickens in a major way—and hundreds of millions of birds will live better lives:
- In early 2016, retail giant Whole Foods Market pledged to work with the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) to source chicken exclusively from slower-growing breeds with better living conditions.
- Later that year, all five of the top food service companies, which provide dining options to universities, businesses, entertainment venues, and stadiums across the country, committed to better chicken. Over 100 million chickens will benefit from these policy changes every year!
- Since then, we've seen progress for chickens start to snowball...and some of the biggest companies in the world heeded the call, including Subway, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Chipotle, TGI Fridays, Campbell’s, and many more—over 180 in total. Thanks to these commitments, hundreds of millions of chickens annually will live better lives.
- Following a Compassion campaign, Perdue Farms became the first chicken company to publish a detailed animal welfare policy. And in a game-changing move, they announced last year that the company would meet demand for higher welfare chicken—the first major chicken producer to commit to healthier genetics, more space, natural light, and behavioral enrichments.
With your support, more companies will follow their lead. Our momentum is stronger than ever—be sure to sign up for our email list to stay up-to-date on the progress we make together!
- Watch our eye-opening video. Think chicken is a healthy meat? Findings from a 2016 study may surprise you.
- Look for better chicken—and explore the world of plant-based alternatives. Get the facts, learn the labels, and find better choices that fit your lifestyle.
- Sign up for our email updates to take action when urgently needed for farm animals.
- Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for even more updates!
- Donate. Your generous support powers our food business and advocacy work. Please consider helping a farmed animal by making a contribution today.