The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recently wrote to Mike Brown and Mike Helgeson, the president and incoming board chairman of the National Chicken Council (NCC), urging them to update the NCC guidelines on chicken welfare to call for slower growing breeds and better living conditions.
The ASPCA claimed most chickens raised for meat in the US are so big they suffer from high rates of heart failure, low stamina and lameness, with overcrowding and poor indoor enrichment leading to frustration and stress. It pointed to research which suggested slower-growing birds, raised in lower stocking density with natural light and enriched environments, suffered significantly lower rates of injury and stress.
“As the body that essentially sets industry standards, the NCC determines the quality of life for billions of birds. We urge you to update your guidelines with meaningful recommendations to address welfare concerns related to both growth rate and husbandry, reflecting the values and expectations of chicken consumers,” said the letter.
Not based on fact
However, NCC vice-president of communications Tom Super said that the ASPCA’s description of poultry production in the US was “not based on fact” and did not represent the realities of modern poultry production.
“The US national broiler flock is incredibly healthy and is the envy of the world. Mortality and condemnation rates for broilers, the most sensitive indicators of the health and well-being of any flock, are at historical lows,” he said.
“In fact, if we reverted to the way we used to raise chickens several decades ago, the mortality rate for chickens would increase by 490%.”
Super added that it would make “zero business and economic sense” for farmers to do anything to harm their flock, and stressed that broiler chickens were never caged.
He said the next version of the NCC Animal Welfare Guidelines and Audit Checklist would “offer the most up-to-date, science-based recommendations for the proper treatment and humane care of broiler chickens”.