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This new report from the ASPCA provides evidence that the chicken industry’s focus on genetic selection for fast growth and efficiency is contributing to widespread suffering among the nearly nine billion chickens raised for meat each year in this country, and may also be putting consumers at greater risk of foodborne illness.
In an age when the horrors of factory farming are becoming more well-known, few might be surprised that factory farmed chickens raised for meat live miserable lives in horrendous conditions. But less well-known is the fact that the core problem for these birds starts long before they are even born: in effect, they are bred to suffer.
Most of today’s chickens are selectively bred to grow so large, so fast—300% faster than those in 1960—and so disproportionately breast-heavy, that many struggle to move or even stand up. Often collapsed in their wet litter, many chickens develop open sores and wounds on their skin, which can act as gateways to infection. Farms routinely feed birds preventative antibiotics in order to prop up their weakened immune systems, creating a vicious cycle that perpetuates substandard conditions and raises significant questions about the implications for human health.
There is a better way. The time has come to reform these breeding practices so that chickens grow at a more natural, comfortable rate in more humane surroundings. It is the least we can do for these chickens—and for ourselves.