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What is the Better Chicken Commitment?

News Icon 3/28/2024

by Anna Sostarecz

In the United States, there are 9.5 billion chickens raised for meat. These “broiler” chickens live in dark, overcrowded barns and are bred to go exponentially fast due to the high demand for white meat products.

The Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) is to chicken as “cage-free" is to eggs – it addresses the key areas of concern for broiler chickens: the environment the birds live in, the fast-growing genetics, and the end of life for these animals. This leading set of standards for birds aims to drive the food industry towards higher welfare practices.

A bunch of white broiler chickens crowded in a barn with no room to move around.
A crowded, low-welfare broiler chicken barn where the animals barely have any room to move around or express their natural behaviors. The BCC aims to address this issue.

Signing on to the BCC empowers restaurants, food service providers, and manufacturers to use their corporate influence to improve broiler welfare within their supply chains. Collaborating with food businesses to raise the baseline for animal welfare is core to Compassion in World Farming's work. 

History of the BCC

"Broiler” chickens specifically describe chickens raised for meat. Originally domesticated 8,000 years ago from the red junglefowl, these birds love dust bathing and perching in trees. Since the intensification of agriculture in the 20th century, however, chickens have been genetically selected to grow as fast as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Chicken houses are incredibly dark and can house up to 40,000 birds at a time, not leaving any room for them to move around comfortably or express natural behaviors. The result is a modern broiler chicken who grows to 2.5 times the slaughter weight of a chicken in 1925 in 58% less time.

A broiler chicken bred to grow unnaturally fast has become lame from not being able to support its own weight.
A broiler chicken bred to grow unnaturally fast has become lame from not being able to support its own weight.

The BCC addresses these welfare concerns. Growing for just a few extra days can make a monumental difference for chicken welfare. This leads to healthier birds that can perch, run, and happily engage with their environments. Since 2016, over 230 companies have signed up to change the chicken industry for the better. Compassion in World Farming tracks company progress in our annual ChickenTrack report.

The Tenets of the BCC

Over 150 independent scientific studies published in academic journals informed the tenets of the BCC. Meeting the minimum standards established by each tenet has a variety of positive welfare outcomes and benefit meat quality as well, leading to an overall better product.

The Environment for Birds 

When thinking about the environment for chicken welfare, there are two categories to consider: how much space birds have in barns, referred to as “stocking density,” and the environmental enrichments given for birds to have an engaging and higher quality of life.

The BCC requires stocking density to be reduced to under 6 pounds per square foot. High stocking densities in conventional broiler chicken barns – which can get as high as ten pounds – have negative consequences related to reduced air and litter quality conditions for the birds, and therefore the farmers. Requiring a lower stocking density allows birds to have more room to flap their wings and walk comfortably.

A white broiler chicken on a higher-welfare farm stands and looks around at nearby chickens.
The BCC requires businesses to allow more room in barns for chickens to move around and express natural behaviors.

Environmental enrichments are key to creating a stimulating environment for chickens. Within the BCC, standards around the lighting levels, the litter quality, and stimulants such as perches are all required.

Giving birds a brighter barn to see easily can be done through windows that allow natural light to come through, or simply by turning up the light provided to chickens. In addition, the BCC wants to ensure birds are given time to rest in the evening, and state that the barn should be dark for at least 6 hours. Damp, dirty litter increases the risk of ammonia burns and lesions on chickens, including breast blisters, hock burns, and footpad dermatitis. To avoid these health implications, the BCC requires maintaining and managing a dry, friable litter layer of at least 3 inches across the entire floor of the house.

To encourage natural behaviors such as perching, the BCC requires one or more types of functional enrichments such as perches, platforms, or straw bales that multiple birds can use at any time.

Healthy broiler chickens use an enrichment to perch, a natural behavior.

Chicken Genetics

There are many concerns with how fast chickens grow today. Up to 37% of conventional breeds suffer from lameness – the inability to walk properly. On farm mortality is over two times higher in fast-growing breeds, leading to over 500 million birds dying on-farm every year. From a meat quality perspective, there are high incidences of visible muscular myopathies in meat from conventional broiler chicken, leading to what’s called “spaghetti meat.”

The BCC requires that certain breeds approved through independent scientific trials be used for chicken production. These approved breeds live 10-30 days longer than fast-growing chickens, which may not seem like a long time, but to a 6-pound animal, it can make a monumental difference.

End of Life

A typical chicken processing plant has two main welfare concerns – the first is that birds are hung upside down, referred to as “live inversion,” where their feet are put in metal shackles. The second is once birds are hung upside down, they are moved through a conveyer belt and immersed in a large electrical water bath. This is meant to stun the birds before they are then killed for food. The main concerns with this type of stunning are that it is not always effective, it is stressful for the animals, and it can lead to pain and injury.

The BCC requires a newer form of technology called Controlled Atmosphere Stunning, or CAS. This system is much calmer and is better for both the animals and the workers. The birds go through the system at a slower speed where they pass through multi-stage chambers gradually, being exposed to different levels of gas until they are rendered unconscious. This system is much more humane for the birds, which is why the BCC requires this as the final stage of production.

Auditing and Reporting Progress

The BCC requires third-party auditing and annual progress reporting. This ensures accountability and transparency to customers and stakeholders.

To see which companies leading, and which ones are falling behind, check out our ChickenTrack report! If your favorite company is not listed in our report, we encourage you to reach out to them and showcase your support for higher welfare chicken through the Better Chicken Commitment.

Anna Sostarecz smiling at the camera wearing a black Compassion in World Farming t-shirt

Anna Sostarecz is a sustainable food systems enthusiast with a background managing sustainable food programs in higher education and nonprofit organizations. She holds a BSc in Environmental Resource Management from Penn State University and has worked across the food system, including in the food security and food waste sectors, mitigating food from landfills. Anna is passionate about transforming the food system to be more environmentally and socially sustainable.



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