Imagine. You open your mouth as wide as you can to take in the warm, foul air. Your chest heaves in and out repeatedly but you still can’t breathe. You look past your protruding body to the female next to you on your left, barely visible in the darkness, and find that they too show signs of panic. All around you it smells like urine and feces, which either belong to you or a neighbor amidst the crowd. You can’t help but cringe as your neighbor’s body touches yours and forces you to topple over into another being. This new unsuspecting bystander screams and flails themselves against you but you can do nothing to avoid her attack. Her spasm makes you want to lash out against someone else, peck them, and inflict some of the pain you feel but you resist. You know it’s no use. Each day is the same. There’s no escaping the panic. No answer to why you live this way. Instead, you look forward to the day you will be taken like the others were, never to return to this wretched place.
For many broiler chickens, this life of panic and confinement is a sad reality. For their entire lives, an average of only 42 days, these birds are housed with many other chickens in a cage that makes movement incredibly difficult, made even more so by the largeness of their bodies. Broiler birds are pumped with food daily and genetically manipulated to grow quickly in order to produce more meat for consumers. Their inability to move causes many birds to have premature heart attacks, grow excessively large hearts, and have their feet grow around the wire of their cages.
Each year in the United States alone, nine billion chickens succumb to this fate before their slaughter, which is also typically inhumane and sometimes even archaic. As living conditions for broiler chickens become more known and talked about among the public, many animal activists have advocated for their improved treatment. Luckily, many corporations that use broiler chickens have taken a stand.
Some of the biggest companies, including Chipotle, Panera Bread, Perdue, Shake Shack, and Starbucks, have committed to addressing the welfare of these birds. They’re requiring that over time, their chicken suppliers follow standards set forth by the Global Animal Partnership.
1.) Lowering maximum stocking density: equal to or less than 6 lbs/sq. ft. (roughly 25% more space than conventional chickens)
2.) Requiring slower-growing birds: genetic potential growth rate equal to or less than 50g per day averaged over the growth cycle (roughly 23% slower growth than conventional chickens)
3.) Improving existing enrichment provisions to include natural light, straw bales, perches, and pecking substrates (typically not provided in conventional chicken production)
Compass Group and Aramark—two of the top three largest food service companies that run dining operations in hospitals, colleges, and stadiums nationwide—have also made promises to hold their suppliers to the standards set forth by the Global Animal Partnership, adding that chickens should also be rendered unconscious prior to shackling using controlled or low atmosphere stunning.
The government had also stepped in to improve the lives of broiler birds by more clearly defining what it means for poultry to be classified as “organic.” Under President Obama’s administration, the phrase “organic” was more clearly defined and new standards were set that hold farmers accountable; the goal to ensure that broiler chickens have a better quality of life and that they have access to outdoor space requirements and improved indoor requirements.
Despite this seemingly positive advancement, these new organic standards were dismissed under the Trump administration. It is more important now than ever to show your support for the just treatment of birds (and all animals) and to spread awareness of the issue. Make it known to your federal and state legislators that this is an issue you care about and something you want to see improved in the future!