The Mirror has reported that the meat chickens we eat now are now four times as large as they were in the 1950s. Whilst the Mirror concludes that ‘being so big could be bad for the chickens themselves’ we know the full extent of the welfare issues.
We estimate that more than 80% of fresh chicken sold by major retailers in the UK is factory farmed - but what does that mean for the birds’ welfare?
Factory farmed meat chickens have been subject to intensive genetic selection and they can typically gain an incredible 50g – 90g a day on average throughout their short lives. The age of slaughter has been decreasing and the weight of chickens at slaughter increasing. Chickens live on average just 39 days before they are slaughtered.
What does this mean for chickens?
These fast growing birds have:
- A higher mortality rate – they are much more likely to die before they are slaughtered.
- An increased risk of becoming lame - quick weight gain puts a strain on their bodies. A study found that on average, 57% of fast growing birds had severe walking problems. In comparison only 17% of slower growing birds had the same walking problems.
- Big risk of heart disease as an increased demand for oxygen puts pressure on the heart and lungs. This often causes sudden death.
- Less active lives - although they want to walk around and explore, they are physically unable to be as active as their legs aren’t strong enough to support the weight of their body.
In essence we are breeding fast growing chickens who can’t walk properly. They become couch potatoes who are more likely to die prematurely from heart disease.
Eating super-sized chickens
Free-range and organic chicken meat often contains less fat than factory farmed chicken meat. In some cases as much as 50% less. Meat from slower growing breeds also contains more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.
What can I do?
If you eat chicken, you can make a difference with the meat that you buy. See here for more advice.