Better lives for broiler chickens

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 7.3 billion broiler chickens were reared in the EU alone in 2018.

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.

broiler chicken
broiler chickens farm

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.

7BILLION

BROILER CHICKENS REARED IN THE EU PER YEAR

40DAYS

AGE AT WHICH BROILER CHICKENS ARE SLAUGHTERED

89%

RESPONDENTS IN 6 MEMBERS STATES SAID THAT CHICKENS SHOULD BE BETTER PROTECTED

WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

A survey conducted in the major EU producing member states (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain) highlighted that EU citizens are deeply concerned about the welfare of broiler chickens. 

An overwhelming majority of respondents feel that chickens should be 

  • Healthy (90%)

  • Subject to a clean environment (89%)

  • Better protected (89%)

  • Humanely slaughtered (86%)

The dichotomy between these views and the realities in industrial chicken farming is immense, and means that there is serious potential for increasing the public’s awareness of these practises.

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Directive 2007/43/EC (the EU Broiler Directive) sets out minimum requirements for the welfare of broiler chickens kept for meat production, excluding smaller holdings. Establishments that breed parent stock are also not subjected to the minimum requirements laid down in this Directive, despite EFSA highlighting the benefits of providing stimuli to these animals. 

The Directive still allows extremely high stocking densities thanks to a series of derogations, and does not address issues that have a major impact on the welfare of these animals, such as the health ones related to selection for fast growth, provision of enrichment materials, access to natural light and outdoor runs. In 2018, a report by the EU Commission also showed that the Directive implementation and enforcement are patchy across Member States, due to different interpretations of some of its provisions. 

In October 2018, the European Parliament issued a Resolution to call on the European Commission to improve welfare standards for broiler chickens.