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COK Investigation

A COK Report: Animal Suffering in the Broiler Industry

Summary

  These chickens suffer both acute and chronic pain due to selective breeding, confinement, transportation, and slaughter.

The vast majority of chicken meat we find in grocery stores and restaurants comes from “broiler” chickens intensively confined on “factory farms.” Each year in the United States, more than 8 billion chickens are raised on these farms. These chickens suffer both acute and chronic pain due to selective breeding, confinement, transportation, and slaughter.

In the 1950s, it took 84 days to raise a five-pound chicken. Due to selective breeding and growth-promoting drugs, it now takes only 45 days. Such fast growth causes chickens to suffer from a number of chronic health problems, including leg disorders and heart disease. According to one study, 90 percent of broilers had detectable leg problems, while 26 percent suffered chronic pain as a result of bone disease. Two researchers in The Veterinary Record report, “We consider that birds might have been bred to grow so fast that they are on the verge of structural collapse.” Industry journal Feedstuffs reports, “[B]roilers now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses.”

Broiler chickens are confined in long warehouses, called “grower houses,” that typically house up to 20,000 chickens in a single shed at a density of only 130 square inches of space per bird. Such stocking densities make it impossible for most birds to carry out normal behaviors and cause the chickens to suffer from stress and disease. As two industry researchers write, “[L]imiting the floor space gives poorer results on a bird basis, yet the question has always been and continues to be: What is the least amount of floor space necessary per bird to produce the greatest return on investment.”

After the industry average of 45 days in the grower shed, chickens are transported to slaughter without food, water, or shelter from extreme temperatures. At the slaughter plant, the chickens are dumped onto conveyors and hung upside down in shackles by their legs. In the United States, there is no legal requirement that chickens be made unconscious before they are slaughtered. Birds have their throats cut by hand or machine. As slaughter lines run at speeds of up to 8,400 chickens per hour, mistakes are common and many birds are still conscious as they enter tanks of scalding water.

Standard industry practices cause chickens to experience both acute and chronic pain. The treatment of these animals would be illegal if anti-cruelty laws applied to farmed animals. But, profits have taken priority over animal welfare. As one industry journal asked, “Is it more profitable to grow the biggest bird and have increased mortality due to heart attacks, ascites, and leg problems, or should birds be grown slower so that birds are smaller, but have fewer heart, lung and skeletal problems? A large portion of growers’ pay is based on the pound of saleable meat produced, so simple calculations suggest that it is better to get the weight and ignore the mortality.”

Full report with citations.

Compassion Over Killing | P.O. BOX 9773, WASHINGTON, DC 20016 | 301-891-2458 | info@cok.net