Why do fast-growing broiler chicken breeds need to be phased out?


Why do fast-growing broiler chicken breeds need to be phased out?

18 September 2023
95% of the broiler chickens currently reared on factory farms are fast-growing, selectively bred to reach slaughter weight in just five to six weeks. Their growth rate has a huge impact on their health and welfare. Here’s why the EU must ban fast-growing broiler breeds as soon as possible.

Sickness. Exhaustion. Starvation. Broiler chickens commonly face all of these problems on factory farms, as the way in which they are bred results in a string of health issues that have a major impact on their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. From the immense pressure their rapid growth puts on their bodies to the crowded conditions they are housed in, it’s clear fast-growing broiler breeds must be banned in the EU’s anticipated update to the animal welfare laws. 

The European Commission is currently working on revising the animal welfare legislation for the first time in decades. Learn more about the policies we are asking them to consider for all kept species, including broiler chickens, here.

What are the biggest health problems experienced by fast-growing broiler chickens?

Industrially farmed broiler chickens commonly experience:

  • Lameness: the skeletal systems and leg muscles of fast-growing broiler birds cannot keep up with their rapid growth and weight gain. They therefore have muscles far too heavy for their fragile bones, leading to gait problems and considerable pain. Up to 58.8% of broiler chickens reportedly suffer from lameness;
  • Lesions: due to their excessive weight, fast-growing broilers spend more time sitting than their slower-growing counterparts. It is common for them to develop lesions on their bodies that can become infected due to the poor hygiene standards in place on most factory farms. Contact dermatitis is also frequent in these systems, with up to 58% of industrially-farmed broiler birds reportedly suffering from lesions;
  • Heart failure: their unnatural growth rate puts immense pressure on the cardiovascular system, meaning countless birds die before slaughter.

What other factors make it impossible for fast-growing broiler chickens to lead comfortable lives?

Fast-growing broiler chickens are chronically hungry, which results in them experiencing near constant mental and physical distress.

They also generate a lot of body heat due to their high metabolic rates. With typical broiler houses containing thousands of birds, these spaces quickly become inhospitable, with chickens overheating. The consequences can be fatal.

To make matters worse, broiler houses are not cleared of litter until the birds have been taken to the slaughterhouse. This means that chickens have to live in their own faeces for weeks, and often end up suffering from respiratory problems, eye abnormalities and other health issues resulting from high levels of ammonia and other noxious gases.

Due to their sheer size and subsequent health problems, broiler chickens cannot engage with their environments and peers comfortably. Evidence shows that broilers are curious birds that want to explore and play, but breeding in a way that causes them to be chronically unhealthy, while also being crushed into huge flocks, means these birds don’t have the energy nor the means to express their natural behaviours. 

Here’s what a day in the life of a typical factory farmed broiler chicken looks like.

The European Commission must ban the breeding of fast-growing broiler chickens 

Fast-growing broiler breeds must be prohibited in the updated animal welfare legislation, and only slower-growing breeds should be permitted in Europe’s farming systems. These animals deserve a healthy life filled with positive experiences, which is only possible for birds of breeds with slower growth rates.