Italian television show unveils the sad reality behind organic chicken production


Italian television show unveils the sad reality behind organic chicken production

24 January 2023

The investigation once again sheds light on some serious issues in the chicken farming system that produces billions of animals annually. With the current revision of the animal welfare legislation this could, and must, be stopped.

Recently, the Italian public broadcast service (RAI) aired an episode of its investigative programme “Report” dedicated to poultry production “Che polli!” (partially available with English subtitles here).

The journalist Giulia Innocenzi depicted a number of critical issues on the leading company in organic poultry production in Italy, using images received by our member LAV.

About 98% of the chickens raised in Italy for their meat are broiler breeds, which have been specifically selected and genetically modified to grow to huge proportions in record time to produce the parts of their bodies most in demand on the market. Broilers develop huge breasts within a matter of weeks and do not have the upper body strength to support themselves on their legs, and they are sent to slaughter at about 4 weeks of age.

The trait selection providing fast growth and specific body parts development is only made possible by unregulated genetic selection. Moreover, broilers suffer from cardiorespiratory and musculoskeletal diseases as a result of their very deformed bodies outgrowing what their muscles and hearts can support. 

The agony of these animals is tangible, as evidenced once again in the Report investigation: they’re killed by unqualified workers, while still in the barn amongst other animals and not at the slaughterhouse. The reason? They’re not growing fast enough. This practice is not legal but it’s a reality for all intensive chicken farm systems.  

Chicken meat consumption in Italy is growing, in contrast to consumption of other meats. And to meet market’s demand, chickens are being forced to live a non-life, crammed into large sheds, often confined to the ground in their own faeces as they are rendered unable to stand on their feet. 

Inspections by veterinary services are essential, but they are not sufficiently frequent, and they are often mutually agreed upon with the farms, so they are limited to inspections that are sometimes merely documentary in nature, without thorough inspections into the health of all the animals on the premises.

This is an increasingly unsustainable production system: chickens, along with other poultry, are affected by avian flu that killed more than 14 million animals last winter, many of them culled, and has already crossed species lines several times in recent decades, infecting humans.

Unfortunately, critical issues are also often hidden behind farming methods, such as organic ones, which are supposed to provide better living conditions for animals and to which consumers are increasingly keen, given their willingness to pay more attention to animal welfare and sustainability.

“The daily occurrence of diseases and the impossibility to monitor due to the large number of animals and farms make this a sick farming system where illegality is entrenched. In a country like Italy, which has recognised animals in its Constitution, we need to make sure that this violence comes to an end”, commented Roberto Bennati, General Director, LAV.

“This is the latest in a long list of investigations proving that the current industrial farming system does not work for the animals and for the planet, even when it’s an organic production. With the current revision of the animal welfare legislation the European Commission has the possibility to put an end to the suffering of billions of animals, e.g. with guidelines for adoption of slower growing breeds. We're going to keep working hard until these horrible scenes will become a bad memory from the past”, added Reineke Hameleers, CEO, Eurogroup for Animals.