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New EU legislation offers little protection for chickens

News Section Icon Published 06/07/2010

The EU Directive on chickens reared for meat (broilers) came into force at the beginning of July 2010. The Directive is weak but at least for the first time we have species-specific legislation for the five billion chickens reared each year in the EU. As a first step it is useful, but we are determined to build on it.

"There is a danger that the Directive will mislead consumers into thinking that chickens are now properly protected by the law, but the harsh reality is that the Directive allows the factory farming of chickens to continue largely unchecked," said Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Advisor for Compassion in World Farming.

In the UK and much of Europe up to 50,000 broilers may be packed into a shed that is so overcrowded that, as the birds get bigger, one can barely see the floor - it's just a sea of chickens. The Directive does nothing to halt this - indeed it permits around 18 chickens (in some cases over 20) to be crammed into each square metre of the floor.

Perhaps the worst problem facing these birds is that they have been bred to grow to slaughter weight so quickly that each year millions suffer from painful leg disorders and are at higher risk of heart disease. The Directive does nothing to end the use of these fast-growing breeds despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the use of such breeds is a major cause of lameness in broilers.

It doesn't have to be like this. Consumers are increasingly moving to high welfare chicken. More than 20% of all fresh chicken sold in the UK now comes from birds reared free-range or in higher welfare indoor systems. In France Label Rouge - which operates to high free-range standards - now has a 33% market share in household purchases of chicken. The Directive - rather than giving its blessing to factory farming - should be strengthened to require all chickens to be reared free-range or in high welfare indoor systems.

Shop with compassion

You can help meat chickens immediately by shopping compassionately:

  • Buy organic or free-range chicken
  • If buying indoor chicken, buy higher welfare indoor chicken such as RSPCA Freedom Food
  • Check the chicken ingredients in sandwiches, pies, curries, etc.
  • Download our Chicken Consumer Guide ( 845.14KB)

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