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News Icon 3/7/2024

by Julia Johnson

In the pursuit of a more sustainable and ethical future, the relationship between animal welfare and carbon emissions has become a central focus of discussion. How do companies balance the need to ensure a better life for chickens while decreasing their environmental impact?

Impact Mitigation Strategies for Higher-Welfare Broiler Production

A recent paper commissioned by Compassion in World Farming, titled “Impact Mitigation Strategies for Higher-Welfare Broiler Production,” delves into this complex interplay, offering insightful strategies to reconcile these seemingly conflicting objectives. This research not only highlights the pressing need to address both animal welfare and environmental sustainability but also presents viable pathways for achieving this delicate balance.

The intensification of how chickens are raised for meat reveals shocking welfare concerns, not granting billions of birds a decent quality of life. Birds are overcrowded in dirty, dark barns and genetically selected to grow so fast that many cannot even stand up due to the weight of their bodies. Improving chicken welfare within the poultry industry is necessary to create a more humane food system, as it aligns with ethical considerations and consumer expectations.

Powerless against a failing body, a chicken makes eye contact while lying immobilized on their side on a broiler chicken farm. Unable to stand on their own, this individual is unlikely to be upright again
Powerless against a failing body, a chicken makes eye contact while lying immobilized on their side on a broiler chicken farm. Credit: Bear Witness Australia | WeAnimalsMedia

But while giving birds more space and switching to a healthier genetic strain are welfare improvements, this could lead to needing more chicken houses to produce the same amount of meat, raising environmental concerns related to crop production and energy usage. Striking a balance between these imperatives is crucial for fostering a more sustainable and humane approach to chicken production.

Where Welfare and Sustainability Meet

This paper assesses the incremental environmental impacts of raising higher-welfare broiler chickens and how they can be mitigated. It draws upon peer-reviewed life cycle assessments and other published research to estimate what it terms the “emissions gap” between conventional and higher-welfare systems.

There are nine strategies for decreasing the greenhouse gas emissions of broiler production. These strategies encompass upstream, on-farm, and downstream impacts. Seven of the nine strategies reviewed have quantified decarbonization benefits – indicating that the emissions gap between higher-welfare and conventional broilers can be narrowed or even eliminated.

White chickens sit outside surrounded by green foliage.
Two chickens sit amongst green foliage.

“Impact Mitigation Strategies for Higher-Welfare Broiler Production” offers a comprehensive roadmap for navigating the complex nexus of welfare and environmental concerns in the context of chicken production. By embracing innovative solutions, leveraging synergies between objectives, and fostering consumer engagement, it is possible to forge a path toward a more sustainable and ethical food system. This research serves as a timely reminder of the urgent need to reconcile competing interests and work toward holistic solutions that benefit animals, the environment, and society as a whole.

You can read the Working Paper here: Broiler Welfare Working Paper | The New Green Normal

Julia Johnson smiling at the camera wearing a black Compassion in World Farming t-shirt

In her role as Head of Food Business, Julia Johnson works with major U.S. food businesses, supports strategy development, and manages the production of food business assets, all with the central objective of driving improvements in farm animal welfare and environmental sustainability in our food system. She is particularly interested in regenerative agriculture, transitional farming, and ensuring biodiversity in our ecosystems. She holds a Master of Science in Anthrozoology from Canisius College, a Master of Divinity from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Michigan State University.



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