CHICKEN FARMING: THE STATS
In the UK alone, we eat more than a staggering 900 million chickens each year.
Shockingly, less than 10 per cent of chickens are reared in what are considered to be ‘higher welfare’ conditions.
The situation is getting worse – the number of higher-welfare chickens in the UK is at its lowest in a decade.
Most chickens have the equivalent amount of space as an A4 piece of paper to live on. “Frankly they have more space when they are dead and in the oven than alive.” (Compassion In World Farming)
If a newborn baby grew as fast as your average supermarket chicken, by her third birthday she would weigh 28 stone. (RSPCA)
Here are some guidelines when shopping for ethically reared chicken. Read our full report here.</strong
Organic chickens are generally considered to be the highest welfare, especially when certified by the Soil Association. The chickens are slower growing so can walk with ease, have access to the outdoors and are less densely packed into sheds.
Why should I care?
There are less of the bad fats and more of the good fats in ethically farmed, organic chicken, and they are not routinely fed antibiotics like hens densely packed into sheds are. Organic chickens are meatier because they have developed good muscles and they have more complex flavours because of their healthier lifestyle and feed. Plus, the animals lead happier lives. And, probably, the farmers too.
RSPCA Assured Free Range
Generally speaking, the potential for the chickens to roam free is good. They also have to be given natural light in the sheds.
However, the ability to roam free range doesn’t mean all the birds do. In reality, how many of them are going to clamber through the thousands of other chickens in the shed and head through the small doors to freedom when their feed is placed in the middle of them all?
RSPCA Assured ensures a higher level of welfare for free-range chickens, requiring more doorways and more light. It insists on perches and objects to peck at such as straw bales and vegetables so the hens can act out their natural behaviours.
The certification also prohibits slaughter by shackling, where birds are hung upside down by their ankles and stunned in a water bath with an electrical current running through it.
Their studies show this is painful and not 100 per cent effective, and using low doses of carbon-dioxide is a more humane way of killing birds for meat.
- Chickens reared to EU standards
- Chickens reared to UK standards
- Red Tractor
- RSPCA Assured indoor
- Meaningless terms when it comes to welfare: British, Corn-fed, Fresh, etc
In terms of animal welfare, these brands adhere to the basic EU and UK standards, which are widely deemed unacceptable.
The chickens can be more tightly packed into sheds than we are the Tube, live among each others faeces and grown at a much faster-rate than is normal. Most birds can barely stand by the time they reach six weeks old and are ready for slaughter because their legs simply haven’t had the time to develop the muscles to support their weight.
They could also be routinely pumped with antibiotics – living in such close confinement leads to disease – and plumped with water.
RSPCA Assured Indoor does ensure a higher level of welfare for the birds (as described above) but they’re still living their short lives completely inside, which means this isn’t the ethical choice.
WHAT THE LABELS REALLY MEAN
Inside space: 10 birds per square metre (sqm)
Outside space: one bird per 4sqm
Summary: Birds are given good natural light and the most space to roam around indoors, and are encouraged from an early age to roam free-range. Slower growing breeds are used, which means birds develop at a natural rate. They eat organic food and individual birds are only given antibiotics if absolutely necessary.
Soil Association is generally considered the highest welfare organic certification.
Inside space: 10 birds per sqm
Outside space: one bird per sqm
Summary: Birds are given natural light and more space to roam around, and are also encouraged to roam free-range.
Inside space: 15 birds per sqm
Outside space: not always required
Summary: Chickens can be free-range (as above) or indoor-bred, and this will be clearly labelled. The indoor-bred chickens have significantly better lives than intensively reared chickens – with natural light and natural enrichment (perches, objects to peck at such as straw bales and vegetables).
Inside space: 19 birds per sqm
Outside space: not required
Summary: This is the most common food safety standard required by most retailers. Their animal welfare standards are inline with the minimum required by law, which are widely considered to be insufficient. This means chickens are too tightly packed into barns, don’t have to be given natural light, and can be bred to grow unnaturally fast.
Kosher and halal
Summary: When it comes to chicken welfare, these are mainly concerned with the slaughter method. Kosher forbids the use of stunning. Halal requires the animal to be alive at point of death, but it is often stunned first.
British/ corn fed/ fresh
Summary: Meaningless terms when it comes to animal welfare.