Grow fast, die young, (very young) – The modern broiler (meat) chicken, typically a Ross 308 or Cobb 500 is a very different animal to the one we envisage peaking around the farm yard. Huge investment has been made by the industry to grow the chicken as large as they can as fast as they can. This work continues with ongoing pressure to produce more and more cheap chicken whilst maximising profit, weights increase and days decrease. This presents huge animal and human welfare, environmental issues and global health risks all for a lower quality product.
Let the facts explain:
- Chicken along with pork is our most intensively farmed meat with over 90% reared in intensive systems
- Intensively farmed chickens live 0.1% of their natural life
- Figures from the FSA published Oct 2017 found Campylobacter contamination in 56% of chicken from 3,980 samples – 29.5% @ 10 – 99 cfu/g, 21.6% @ 100 – 1000 cfu/g and 5.9% over 1000 cfu/g. This is a decrease from previous years but highlights the price of force farming animals. *Campylobacter is naturally found in all poultry but not at the dangerous levels seen in industrial farming.
- Chicken is also our most popular meat making up 50% of meat consumed in the UK
- More than 975 million broiler (meat) chickens are slaughtered every year in the UK, that is 2.3 million a day
- From chick to the supermarket shelf in 5 weeks, typically 35-40 days
- Broiler chickens have been genetically modified to grow 4x faster than a traditional breed
- A modern chicken processing plant can process 26,000 birds per hr
- Chicken catching machines can handle up to 26 tonnes of birds per hour (about 8000 birds per hour – at 2.5 kg per bird)
- A typical chicken shed holds 40,000 birds
- About 5% die or have to be culled prematurely
- Intensively farmed chickens live in sheds stocked at 42kg (EU) and 39kg per m2 (UK), that is up to 17-25 chickens per square meter
- 1/3 of broiler chickens suffer from lameness and can’t walk without pain
- They are often subjected to 23 hrs of artificial light per day to encourage them to keep eating
- BPC figures reported 23.72 tonnes of antibiotics were administered in 2016 despite evidence that they could be fuelling drug resistant forms of dangerous food poisoning illnesses in humans, including campylobacter, salmonella and E.coli.
- Campylobacter is the leading cause of food poisoning in the UK. It makes 280,000 people ill each year. 80% is attributed to raw poultry
- Breast meat severely affected by WS (*White Striping) has dramatic variations in nutritional values, including a 224% fat content increase and a 9% protein decrease.
- Chicken lorries heading to the slaughter house, the ones you see on the motorway layed with orange crate carry around 6000 birds.
- A poussin is an even younger chicken, less than 28 days old
- Free range and organic chicken is around typically 8-12 weeks
- Some independent producers offering 100 days / 14 week old chickens
- The natural life span of chicken is around 5-10 yrs, depending on the breed
*White Striping – growing demand has led to genetic selection to produce fast-growing broilers,inducing the appearance of several spontaneous, idiopathic muscle abnormalities along with an increased susceptibility to stress-induced myopathy. Such muscle abnormalities have several implications for the quality of fresh and processed products. Three commonly reported types of breast muscle myopathies in broilers are deep pectoral myopathy (DPM), white striping (WS), and wooden breast (WB)
Outside the supermarket you’ll find superior choices that often go over and above minimum standards and are focused on producing a better quality product, such as:
- Ginger pig 100 day at £10 per kg
- Fosse meadows 81 days at £6.45 per kg
- Springfield poultry min 70 day, £6 per kg
- Suttonhoo poultry min 70 days, £6.50 per kg
- Search for slow grown or traditionally raised chicken and you’ll find plenty more.
At the butchers, farm shop, markets or independent retailers, always ask how the chicken was produced, don’t assume it is higher welfare.
As with any meat, don’t buy on price alone. Consider what you are getting for your money. Think about the value, the taste, the texture, health considerations, you are not comparing the same product and with chicken the extra money is well worth it. Being and EOr is not simply about replacing your meat with an ethical product, it is also about cutting down our meat consumption, therefore offsetting the cost of superior meat products. Eat less and eat better.
Beware of the Red tractor logo! It does not mean higher welfare, it is still intensive indoor rearer broiler chickens.
Parting thoughts – Buy chicken with caution, there are higher welfare options and the cost different is well worth it. There are also lots of ways to replace chicken in dishes if you choose to cut down or want to give chicken meat up.
P.S. I have not added any pictures of inside broiler houses, processing plants or chicken catching machines in action. If the information about is not enough to make you think, Google it and view images or videos. Instead a picture of baby chicks full of hope and a new day 🙂