Animal Welfare

Here’s Why Supersize Chickens Are the Next Animal-Welfare Fight

The next in line.
The next in line. Photo: Edwin Remsberg/Corbis

Dunkin’ Donuts announced Monday that it was becoming roughly the kazillion-and-first company to commit to sourcing cage-free eggs. But the consequence of cage-free being the new norm (or, in actuality, being the norm in a decade, when all of these policies actually take effect) is that animal-rights groups can’t have people thinking all this food is now guilt-free. The new battleground, Fortune points out, will be over the 9 billion broiler chickens raised in the U.S. every year:

While the chickens may have flown the cage, the animal-welfare debate rages on. The next front: “fast growth” broiler chickens. For years the poultry industry has intentionally bred its birds to get bigger faster on less feed. In 1925 the average broiler chicken weighed 2.5 pounds when it went to market at 112 days old. Today the average goes to market after just 48 days at 6.2 pounds — essentially we’ve created giant chickens.

In fact, Alec Baldwin stars in a new video that calls on Tyson Foods to end cruel conditions that the group Mercy for Animals has captured on tape at its farms. Many of them stem from fast-growth breeding: “If you eat chicken from Tyson Foods,” Baldwin says, “you may be unknowingly supporting some of the worst abuse, including birds bred to grow so fast they’re in constant pain.” The video flashes some icky examples as he gets more specific: “Chickens are bred to grow so quickly that their organs and bones cannot support their heavy bodies. As a result, many die in agony from heart attacks and organ failure.”

The Humane Society criticizes factory farms for inflicting leg problems, compromised immune systems, and heart conditions on these chickens. Fortune says food companies so far haven’t gone beyond saying fast-growth broilers are an issue they’re working to “understand” and “address,” which — maybe they should take note — is the kind of language they were using when the push for cage-free eggs began.

[Fortune, Mercy for Animals]

Activists Say Giant Chickens Are Next Fight