A Response to “The Sustainability Impacts of Slow-Growing Broiler Production in the US”
January 11, 2017
By Leah Garces
US Executive Director, Compassion in World Farming
This past December saw a huge market shift in commitments to improve the lives of chickens raised for meat, AKA broilers. Nearly all of the food service industry, plus restaurant giants Panera and Starbucks, will switch over the next eight years to higher welfare breeds of birds who will benefit from improved living conditions. Consumers have long called for chickens to be raised with access to natural light, more space, and genetics that don’t inherently cause suffering. We are beginning to see a promising and swift move by food businesses to meet that demand.
In response, the National Chicken Council (NCC) this week published a new study evaluating the impact that changing our chicken will have on the industry. The industry trade group concluded that shifting to slower growing birds with more space than they are currently given (about the size of iPad) would cause a sharp increase in chicken prices and the use of environmental resources. Such an impact would mostly be due to the increase in feed and number of days it would take to raise the birds.
That sounds alarming, but here’s what you should know about this “study.” It was not peer-reviewed, there is no discussion of the study methods, and the authors of the study are not listed. The study was not conducted by an independent university body or impartial scientific committee, but by Elanco, a manufacturers and distributor of feed supplements and pharmaceuticals. That alone should call the results into question.
But here’s where the NCC really got it wrong. Consumers and animal advocates don’t care how fast birds grow, how large they get, or if they live longer. They care about grotesque animal suffering. And what’s happened in the broiler industry, the creation of a Frankenchicken born to suffer, is unacceptable.
Animal welfare is firmly guiding purchasing choices today. Whether you are a Walmart customer or a Whole Foods Market customer, or both, you don’t want animals who lived a life of misery on the shelf. Yet the vast majority of our chickens are housed in crowded, dirty, windowless sheds. They are selectively bred for primarily one thing: large breasts at cheap prices. The industry is well aware of the catastrophic welfare outcomes that are associated with these genetics: crippled legs, difficulty breathing, and dying from heart attacks are but a few of the potential negative outcomes.
The solution is simple: a better breed of bird that is not born to suffer. Consumers want the industry to take animal welfare seriously.
Global Animal Partnership (GAP), an independent, third party animal welfare auditing program, has firm plans to conduct a reliable, peer-reviewed study. In cooperation with the University of Guelph, GAP is taking the next big, science-based step by evaluating genetics to create measurable higher –welfare outcomes for broilers. The critical question is not how fast or slow they grow, but rather, how can we reduce their suffering. This study will prove to be an essential component of significantly improving the lives of millions of chickens.
At the end of the day, consumers are driving changes in the market. Consumers are saying loud and clear: don’t give us a chicken that was bred to suffer.