Which chickens are used for meat production?
The white chickens currently used in New Zealand for meat production (called ‘broilers’ by the poultry industry) are of one of two breeds – Cobb and Ross. They have been selected to grow ‘meat’ not sustain life. They double in size every week. They are usually killed at just six weeks of age, although some are slaughtered as early as four weeks old.
The fast growth leads to a range of severe welfare problems. Their musculoskeletal structures fail to keep up with the increase in weight. Up to a third struggle to walk due to painful lameness. Their under-developed organs can cause respiratory difficulties, heart disease and heart failure – a very stressful way to die.
Each year, approximately two million chickens die (or are culled) in sheds around Aotearoa, before reaching six weeks old.
What do they want and need?
While these breeds of chickens have been aggressively selectively bred to grow fast, they still have the same natural instincts as other chickens.
As well as the need for suitable food and clean water, they need space to spread their wings and run around. They are curious and seek the opportunity to forage, peck at objects and scratch.
They like to perch off the ground, especially when sleeping, to avoid predators. They keep their skin and feathers healthy by dust bathing. They also need a daily rhythm of light and dark to encourage natural behaviour and rest.
What is the Better Chicken Commitment?
The Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) is a set of science-based, leading standards for chicken welfare across the food industry that was agreed upon by leading animal protection organisations. It has driven the industry towards higher welfare practices from producers, retailers, hospitality and restaurants.
Over 500 company commitments have been made to the BCC. They are listed on ChickenWatch progress tracker (filter by issue ‘broiler’.)
Benefits for your business of the BCC?
The legal welfare standards for chickens bred for meat in Aotearoa are so low, they allow extensive suffering in sheds around the country.
Conscious consumers who buy meat, want to know they are making the best choices available. While free-range egg production gives the hens a substantially better life than cage or barn systems, the same can’t be said of free-range chicken meat production.
While fast-grow chicken breeds are used, who struggle with mobility and other debilitating health problems, free-range farming offers almost no welfare improvement for the birds.
As public awareness is growing over the suffering of chickens bred for meat, even in free-range systems, companies need to adapt to demonstrate to customers that they are taking animal welfare seriously.
The BCC is your opportunity to be a leader in this arena and truly live up to your CSR values, by creating a welfare transition in your supply chain.
Better Chicken Commitment standards
Slower growing, healthier breeds: using breeds that demonstrate higher welfare outcomes.
Lower stocking density: ensuring a stocking density of 30kg/m2 (around 15 birds) or less, to give the birds more space to move around, express natural behaviours and rest undisturbed.
Environmental enrichments: providing at least two metres of usable perch space and two pecking substrates per 1,000 birds to stimulate natural behaviour and improve their mental wellbeing. Cages and multi-tier systems are prohibited, (not currently used in Aotearoa for chickens bred for meat).
Natural light: providing at least 50 lux of light, including natural light.
Improved slaughter method: adopting controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) using inert gas or multi-phase systems, or effective electrical stunning without live inversion.
Auditing: independent animal welfare audits and annual public reporting against the above criteria.
A company must meet all of these criteria for 100% of their chicken meat supply, by an agreed specified deadline, to fulfil their commitment to the BCC.
In the time from signing up to the BCC, to the final deadline, there will be a transition period during which their chicken supplier will implement the required changes.
Read/download our guide to the Better Chicken Commitment for businesses
Are you a business wanting to find out more?
If your food business is interested in discussing signing up to the Better Chicken Commitment, please get in touch with our Food Business team via the form below.
Image credit – RPSCA UK – RSPCA Assured