New hope for 40 billion chickens factory farmed every year

July 22 2019

Our groundbreaking research has found that producing higher welfare chicken is far cheaper than previously believed.

Our landmark report, Valuing higher welfare chicken, has found that higher welfare is cheaper than previously thought. 

The findings mean that billions of chickens around the world could be taken out of cruel intensive systems every year as cost can no longer be used as an excuse by restaurants, retailers and producers.

Chickens at a higher welfare farm in the UK

The report was carried out for World Animal Protection by Wageningen University in the Netherlands, world leaders in agricultural research. It finds that shifting from conventional’ intensive to higher welfare indoor systems increases production costs by only 6-9 Euro cents (7-10 US cents) per kilogram (kg) (approximately 2.2 pounds) of live bird across the five markets studied.*

This means a cost increase of only 6.4-13.4% above conventional production costs, which is much lower than increases of up to 49% previously projected by a US industry-funded study.**

The solutions proposed in the report to give intensively farmed chickens better lives are simple, effective and backed by robust scientific evidence. Critically, the welfare improvements can be easily introduced to most existing systems.

Improvements include:

• Lower stocking densities of maximum 30 kg/m2 (6 lb/ft2), which allow chickens room to move and spread their wings.

• Provision of ‘enrichment’ – perches or platforms plus grain, hay bales or other materials to peck. Floor based litter is essential for dustbathing, comfort, and feather and feet health – all of which are proven to help chickens fulfil their natural behaviours.

• Six hours of continuous darkness per day – allowing the birds better development and natural resting time as opposed to shorter, disturbed resting periods – and better illumination during daytime hours.

• The use of slower growing birds with proven higher welfare outcomes to avoid the health problems caused by unnatural fast growth.

Most of the world’s 60 billion chickens farmed for their meat are still confined to cramped, intensive conditions in factory farms. Genetically selected to grow fast and develop large, heavy breast muscles – too big for their legs to support – they can experience great pain and suffering. The combination of fast growth and intensive stocking causes serious welfare issues including respiratory failure and sudden death, leg problems, broken bones, and skin problems from constant contact with wet and dirty litter.

Chickens on a factory farm in an undisclosed location

Consumer demand for higher welfare chicken is increasing worldwide at a rate that producers and retailers cannot ignore.

Significantly, consumer willingness to bear all or a large proportion of the costs of higher welfare meat is on the rise. ***

This is further demonstrated by consumer behaviour in the Netherlands with a national case study of higher welfare retail chicken after actual industry transition.

A chicken at a higher welfare farm in Africa 

Steve McIvor, our CEO said: “There is a real opportunity here to improve the lives of billions of chickens globally. The higher welfare indoor system is realistic and scientifically proven. It opens the doors to business opportunities worldwide. It gives discerning consumers what they want and allows producers and retailers higher cost efficiencies than some other higher welfare systems.

“Almost all existing lower welfare systems in all markets researched for this report, except for cages, can be easily adapted to comply with the higher welfare indoor system. This can be achieved with lower production costs than previously believed. Most importantly, it can deliver a vital change for chickens.”

Sources

* The research, the first of its kind, is an economic and welfare analysis of conventional and higher welfare production systems in five markets. These markets are the Netherlands, United States, Brazil, China and Thailand – among the top chicken producers, consumers or exporters globally. Collectively these countries produce more than 26 billion chickens per year.

** Elanco Animal Health. (2015). The Sustainability Impacts of Slow-Growing Broiler Production in the US. Released by National Chicken Council, US in 2016

*** The public in all markets expressed a high willingness to pay for higher welfare markets and great concern about farm animal welfare. This willingness has increased between 2016-2018. There is considerable concern around buying meat that has been produced inhumanely. Increasing proportions of respondents indicated a preference only to buy products from chickens that had lived a good quality of life, irrespective of price. On average, more than 60 percent of chicken consumers surveyed globally (across 14 countries) said they are willing to pay for better quality, higher welfare products.

Key relevant results from World Animal Protection 2018 tracking, and comparison from 2016. Random survey by country of people aged 16- 64 years, gender balanced.

"The higher welfare indoor system is realistic and scientifically proven. It opens the doors to business opportunities worldwide." - Steve McIvor

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