Currently the vast majority of broilers, chickens that are selected and bred for the sole purpose of producing meat, experience such a fast and unnatural growth rate that they suffer from cardio-respiratory insufficiency, dilated hearts and painful lameness at just a few weeks old.
Industrial broiler chicken production was developed after World War II to supply the market with large amounts of relatively cheap meat. This is still the predominant production model, and is continuing to expand on a global scale. More than 6.4 billion broiler chickens were reared in the EU in 2019.
Although broiler chickens live a short life, they reach their final slaughter weight (1.5-2kg) in around 40 days, it is a life full of suffering from the moment they hatch. Broiler chickens are selected to grow faster and as a result they suffer from leg problems, heart failure, sudden death syndrome or ascites, an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen, when they are only a few weeks old.
Eurogroup for Animals asked six independent researchers to present the available scientific evidence on the welfare issues experienced by broiler chickens, from breeding to slaughter and included the answers in a comprehensive report entitled The welfare of broiler chickens in the EU: from science to action.
The report co-authors also shared their ideas for the future of broiler chicken farming in a short publication entitled A vision for the future broiler farming.
The intensive conditions under which the majority of the EU broiler chickens (an estimated 90%) are reared can lead to serious welfare problems.
Crammed into barns with poor ventilation, without outdoor access, natural light and any type of enrichment, broiler chickens do not have the possibility to perform natural behaviours such as perching or scratching the soil.
The stress caused by poor welfare, as well as high stocking density and wet litter, provide excellent conditions for diseases to spread, so antibiotics are commonly used, putting human health and the environment at risk as well.