New Study Results Could Greatly Reduce Suffering for Billions of Chickens

This week, Global Animal Partnership published the initial results of a two-year study that could greatly reduce suffering for the billions of chickens raised for meat each year—nine billion in the United States alone. The study, conducted at the University of Guelph in Canada, is the first multidisciplinary chicken-welfare research project to include welfare indicators such as behavior, mobility, anatomy, and physiology.

“This study confirms what we have known and campaigned on for years: Chickens of industry-standard breeds suffer tremendously,” said Mercy For Animals president Leah Garcés. “Food companies and chicken producers can no longer claim plausible deniability for the many problems related to these fast-growing breeds. It’s time for the poultry industry, grocers, retailers, and restaurant chains to stop sourcing chickens from these terrible breeds and switch to already available breeds with higher animal welfare outcomes.”

Scientists studied 7,500 chickens from 16 different strains over the course of two years. They found that rapid-growth strains had several significant issues related to poorer welfare, such as reduced mobility, skin lesions, muscle damage, and inadequate heart and lung development. These fast-growing strains make up the vast majority of chickens raised for meat.

At factory farms, most chickens are raised in dark, barren warehouses on floors covered with waste-soaked litter. Bred to grow so large so quickly, many birds suffer organ failure, heart attacks, and crippling leg deformities. Each year hundreds of millions of chickens in the United States die prematurely from health problems and never make it to the slaughterhouse.

The results of this groundbreaking study will be used to designate the breeds of chickens that can be used by the nearly 200 food companies that have adopted the Better Chicken Commitment (a set of higher-welfare standards), including Subway, Burger King, Popeyes, and Starbucks. Read the report summary here.

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