This week, the National Chicken Council released its long-awaited revised guidelines [PDF] for the chicken industry. These guidelines are critical since much of industry looks to the NCC’s recommendations to set their own practices.
Unfortunately, while the NCC’s revised recommendations contain some positive steps forward on some welfare issues, they miss the mark on others and, like the previous guidelines, completely neglect to address the most fundamental problem: selective breeding for excessive growth, a cruel practice that causes massive suffering and may pose increased food safety risks to consumers. Until that is addressed, there is a ceiling on how much welfare can be improved.
As our Truth About Chicken campaign describes, most of today’s chickens are bred to grow so big, so fast, that many can barely walk and, weakened, spend much of their lives lying in their own waste with open sores and wounds. This might produce more efficiency and profit for industry, but it makes life more miserable for the almost 9 billion birds raised for food each year.
The new guidelines also continue to allow for much too little space for birds, and neglect to provide for natural light, enough hours of darkness or indoor enrichments such as straw bales for birds to perch on.
The revised recommendations do contain improvements to encourage natural behavior in chickens, increase employee training, and add requirements for animal welfare documentation, oversight and auditing. These are important and laudable steps.
The ASPCA, through its Truth About Chicken campaign, will stay on the case and continue to engage the public and to urge industry to reform its practices. Please join us in making life better for chickens and better for us.