Chicken is America's favorite -- or at least most eaten -- meat but many consumer and animal welfare advocates say the modern chicken has become a monstrosity, growing so quickly and getting so big that many of the birds can't support their own weight.
Whole Foods Market says it will try to bring some human decency back to the chicken business, commiting to slower-growing breeds and better living conditions by 2024, according to Compassion in World Farming.
The group is calling on animal producers to replace all fast-growing breeds with healthier, slower growth breeds, and to give all chickens natural light, more space, and enrichment as a minimum.
“For decades, the industry’s focus has been on producing a chicken as big, as fast, and as cheap as possible. But there have been disastrous unintended consequences for the birds -- lameness, heart conditions, and immune function problems, to name a few. It’s high time we give chickens a life worth living,” said Leah Garces, U.S. Director of Compassion in World Farming and Global Animal Partnership board member.
Conventional chickens are typically raised with less than a square foot of space each, are given no enrichment or natural light, and suffer from the side effects of extremely fast growth – 65g/day on average, Garces said.
Modern chickens have been selectively bred for their fast, efficient growth and higher yield of breast meat. However, this has had detrimental impacts on the welfare of broiler chickens, including immune and musculoskeletal problems resulting in limitations to the bird’s ability to express natural behaviors like perching, flying, and even walking.
Starbucks, Compass, Nestle, and Aramark have all voiced support for addressing welfare problems resulting from fast-growing chicken breeds.
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