Broiler chickens

The vast majority of broilers suffer from cardio-respiratory insufficiency, dilated hearts and painful lameness at just a few weeks old.

Broilers are chickens that are selected and bred for the sole purpose of producing meat, and experience a fast and unnatural growth rate.

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 just 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. 

The environmental conditions under which the majority of the EU broiler chickens are reared can lead to serious welfare problems. 

Crammed into barns 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.

Antibiotics are commonly used, putting human health and the environment at risk as well. 

IN ONE YEAR, MORE THAN

7 billion

BROILER CHICKENS ARE REARED IN THE EU

BROILER CHICKENS REACH SLAUGHTER WEIGHT IN JUST

40

DAYS

IN A SURVEY OF 6 EU MEMBER STATES,

89%

OF RESPONDENTS FELT 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%), be better protected (89%), and be slaughtered humanely (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.

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

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 issues related to selection for fast growth, provision of enrichment materials, access to natural light and outdoor runs. In 2018, a report by the European Commission also showed that the Directive's implementation and enforcement are patchy across Member States, due to different interpretations of some of its provisions. 

Broiler chicken welfare is a priority for Eurogroup for Animals. ​​​​​​​ 

We seek a better life for all broiler chickens by promoting the use of higher welfare breeds and better rearing conditions, and we urge a revision of the EU Broiler Directive to include higher welfare standards. 

We support the European Chicken Commitment, by which food companies can require their suppliers to meet a list of requirements for the chickens in their supply chain, including maximum stocking densities, the use of breeds that demonstrate higher welfare outcomes, and provision of natural light, perches and pecking substrates in barns.

We believe that a harmonised EU method-of-production labelling for chicken meat can empower consumers to choose higher welfare systems.