Broiler chickens: why are these innocent beings suffering by the billions?


Broiler chickens: why are these innocent beings suffering by the billions?

4 July 2023

It’s a difficult life for broiler chickens in Europe’s farming systems. Not only are these poor birds reared to grow incredibly fast - so they’re ready for slaughter after just six weeks of life - but they’re subjected to painful stunning practices, arduous journeys and awful habitats, too. As one of the most widely farmed and consumed species in Europe, it’s critical the Commission takes their welfare seriously in their ongoing revision to the animal welfare legislation. Billions of lives hang in the balance.

Broiler chickens are incredible animals. They’re clever, have amazing memories, and can form close bonds with their peers. But to see the way they are farmed across Europe, you’d think they were little more than robots - crammed into dark rooms with nothing to do, no room to move, and raised to be slaughtered in just a six-week timeframe. 

It’s a shocking lifestyle to imagine… and an even more shocking one to watch up-close.

What are some of the key issues broiler chickens face in Europe’s farming systems?

The stats listed below are from our 2021 No Animal Left Behind report.

Around 90% of the EU’s farmed broiler chickens are raised in intensive systems, which are riddled with problems. Here are just a few of the most concerning issues for this species in the sector. 

Broiler chickens are being bred to grow too quickly

95% of the broiler chickens currently being reared on factory farms are ‘fast-growing’ breeds, which means they’re bred to grow very quickly and reach slaughter weight in just five to six weeks. 

These poor beings cannot live a good life. Due to their fast-growing nature, they’re in constant discomfort, and commonly suffer from problems such as lameness, heart failure, metabolic disorders, and heat stress. These health problems are a direct result of their genetics, which means the only solution is to phase out the farming of fast-growing broiler chicken breeds entirely. 

Broiler chickens are rarely given adequate space or access to the outdoors

Most broiler chickens live in horrible confinement. Thousands of birds are routinely crammed into the same small, dark spaces in factory farms, with the European Commission currently allowing stocking densities for up to 42 kg/m2 in its legislation. 

The findings of the EFSA scientific opinion on broiler welfare point to the fact that stocking densities over 11 kg/m2 creates significant welfare problems for broiler chickens, with common issues including they’re more likely to contract footpad dermatitis, will have more difficulties with walking, and struggle to express their natural behaviours. Furthermore, high stocking densities cause chickens to suffer from overheating, as well as subject them to unhygienic conditions that are a threat to their health (as they’re surrounded by a much higher volume of litter than if they lived in smaller groups). 

The needs and natures of broiler chickens are being ignored 

Broiler chickens are feeling, curious and engaged creatures with a range of physical and emotional needs - just like any other sentient being.

However, these needs are far from being met across European factory farms. Billions of broiler chickens live indoors without any form of entertainment (such as perches or straw bales), and with no room to exercise, play or socialise naturally. Because of this, they have almost no opportunities to have positive experiences in their lifetimes.

Broiler chickens are being transported alive by the billions 

Did you know that poultry makes up over 90% of live animal transports each year? 

Many are broiler chickens, as they are frequently transported across Europe to reach slaughterhouses. Despite the huge number of them being forced to undergo long and arduous journeys annually, poultry is rarely considered in conversations about live animal transport, meaning these birds are suffering in silence. 

Broiler chickens are being slaughtered in horrific ways 

Industrially farmed broiler chickens are not granted the dignity of a pain-free death. Countless of them are subjected to a cruel and ineffective form of ‘waterbath stunning’ before they are sent to slaughter, where they often killed by having their throats cut - some while still fully conscious:

Clearly, the welfare laws for broiler chickens need to be heavily updated

Broiler chickens are farmed at a gigantic scale across Europe - yet as the above points show, the conditions in which they’re reared are far from acceptable. It’s absolutely critical that the European Commission focuses on this neglected species, and writes strong and robust laws for their welfare as they continue with their revision of the animal welfare legislation.

Emphasising the critical nature of the changes needed, our members have been campaigning for better lives for broiler chickens for years. Over in Sweden in 2022, Djurens Rätt launched an incredibly popular campaign exploring the issues these birds commonly experience: 

This campaign won our award for ‘Best Campaign’ at the Eurogroup for Animals Annual General Meeting this year.

Members including Equalia, LAV and Essere Animali have also published several investigations that shine a light on the horrors industrially farmed broiler chickens are exposed to, sparking outrage and signalling a clear need to adapt the Commission’s laws for their welfare - and enforce them across the EU. 

Their voices have been impactful. We’re now beginning to see changes made and interest in the subject politically: at a PETI Committee last month, for example, Animal Equality managed to keep the petition to outlaw fast-growing broiler breeds open. More recently - just last week - the Danish government agreed to phase out the state procurement of fast-growing broiler chickens, and to back a ban at EU level. Over in Sweden this year, the Swedish National Agency for Public Procurement included standards for higher welfare chicken breeds in line with European Chicken Commitment.

This is amazing progress for broiler chickens, but to change their lives at the kind of scale needed across the entirety of Europe, the European Commission must create standards for their welfare that all Member States must follow.

The European Commission must write species-specific legislation for broiler chickens! Do you agree? 

Some of the most important changes they should make to the welfare laws for broiler chickens are: 

  • Banning fast-growing broiler breeds
  • Banning ‘waterbath stunning’
  • Limiting stocking densities in farming systems following EFSA recommendations
  • Ensuring they have access to enrichment materials and the outdoors, so they can lead fulfilling lives
  • Putting measures in place to make sure all welfare laws for broiler chickens are sufficiently enforced across Europe.

It’s time to ring in a brighter era for broiler chickens in the EU and beyond. Are you with us? 

We’re working to ensure all kept species are considered by the European Commission in their update to the animal welfare laws! Learn more here.