NEW YORK—In an open letter delivered today to the National Chicken Council (NCC), the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), along with a growing base of supporters, called upon the organization to improve the standards of care for the chickens that are raised for meat in the United States. The NCC’s revised welfare guidelines are expected to be released before the end of this year.
The letter [PDF], which cites various scientific studies, reads in part: “As the body that essentially sets industry standards, the NCC determines the quality of life for billions of birds. We urge you to update your guidelines with meaningful recommendations to address welfare concerns related to both growth rate and husbandry, reflecting the values and expectations of chicken consumers.”
Nearly all of the more than nine billion farm animals raised for food each year in the United States are chickens. Most of these chickens are selectively bred by industry to grow so big, so fast that many can barely move and spend much of their lives lying in their own waste, often with open sores and wounds that can create gateways to infection. In addition, most live in overcrowded, ammonia-filled sheds with artificial lighting designed to promote continuous eating, and suffer from a lack of enrichment that prevents natural behaviors.
In a recent study, the University of Arkansas found that if humans grew at a similar rate to that of modern chickens, a 6.6 pound newborn baby would weigh 660 pounds after two months. Studies have also shown that the stress of the excessive growth rate and accompanying poor living conditions can contribute to lowered immunity, potentially making the chickens even more susceptible to disease.
“Most of today’s chickens are in effect bred to suffer; these are the chickens that make their way to Americans’ plates every day,” said Suzanne McMillan, director of the ASPCA’s Farm Animal Welfare Campaign. “Not only are the industry’s current practices cruel, but these animals’ living conditions and low welfare may also have implications for food safety and human health. We urge the NCC to do right by chickens and consumers by revising its guidelines to respond to this systemic issue that has unfortunately become the norm.”
Despite the fact that more than 90 percent of farm animals raised each year for food are chickens, there are no federal laws regulating how they are treated on farms. Earlier this year, the ASPCA launched an effort called “The Truth About Chicken” to address the problems with U.S. poultry breeding and production practices. To date, more than 100,000 people have signed the campaign petition demanding slower-growing chickens raised in more humane conditions.