Every year, the UK raises more than a billion chickens for meat. And around 90% spend their lives suffering on factory farms where they encounter numerous welfare issues. A large part of their suffering is due to the conditions they live in, but breeding programmes focused on producing chickens that grow big quickly are also to blame. They produce a lot of meat this way and make a high profit, but It is at the detriment of the chickens’ health and wellbeing. They are designed to suffer before they are even born.
What is a fast-growing chicken?
It’s exactly as the name suggests. They are chickens bred to grow very quickly. In fact, they grow over 4 times faster now than they did just several decades ago. They take just 35 days to reach 2.2kg, the weight at which farmers slaughter them. This is so abnormal that they are known as ‘Frankenchickens’.
Why is it a Problem?
Because it is horrible for the chickens. They live life in pain and suffering. Between 50-90% develop a muscle disease called white striping, while many struggle to walk, feed or express other natural behaviours due to the weight of their own bodies. They are more prone to heart defects and broken bones, and they suffer from painful leg conditions, raw irritated sores and several other health conditions. Many die before even reaching 35 days old.
As well as the chicken’s quality of life, though, fast-growing chickens come at a cost to human health. They are less nutritious, and they contain much more fat.
Breeding for Suffering
The British government has essentially acknowledged that these animals suffer. The law here states that animals cannot be bred if they will have poor health due to their genotype, yet this practice still continues, and the law is not sufficiently enforced. Hundreds of companies across Europe have voluntarily stopped selling these breeds of chicken under the Better Chicken Commitment, but many large companies have not.
What Can We Do?
It is clear that chickens on factory farms suffer greatly, and even more so when they are a fast-growing breed. Supermarkets claim to “care deeply” about animal welfare but continue to sell these chickens. They need to know it’s not OK. Making your voice heard is an option. Protests have recently been building against the larger supermarket chains, and the government has recently granted a court hearing over the issue to an animal welfare charity.
Becoming food savvy is another possibility. Protein is present in all plant-based foods, and research suggests that a fibre-rich plant-based diet low in saturated fats can be beneficial to health in a variety of ways.