How to protect chickens and save the earth
It is an inescapable fact that animal products carry a high environmental price tag. So, to help save our planet and improve the lives of chickens worldwide we need to do two things.
We must reduce the amount of chicken meat in our diets. We must also ensure that any we do eat comes from chickens reared in higher welfare conditions.
Jonty Whittleton, our global campaign head for chickens, is pushing hard to stop the suffering of the world’s 60 billion chickens farmed annually for meat. He explains most are fast growing breeds farmed intensively in low welfare conditions.
“Their suffering is made even worse by the intensive conditions. The close confinement stops them behaving naturally. They cannot spread their wings, dust-bathe, or perch. The stress and pain so many of them feel is unimaginable.”
Taking the strain
World Animal Protection’s campaign to protect meat chickens calls for the use of slower growing breeds and more space for them, explains Jonty.
He rejects the expected argument from industry that producing higher welfare chicken involves unacceptably high costs for producers, consumers and the environment.
“Industry claims that higher welfare farms use slower-growing breeds that require more soy- and corn-based feeds, energy and land which puts more strain on the environment. We can’t deny the higher environmental impact, but I think our argument to mitigate this is compelling.”
“People can transform an animal’s life by choosing to eat higher welfare meat and do their bit for the environment by eating it less frequently. To use basic animal welfare standards as a bargaining chip is wrong. We need to strike a balance, ensuring that animal welfare sits at the heart of sustainability.”
Counting the cost
The extra financial cost of improving animal welfare standards is also often put forward as a reason for keeping animals in conditions that would shock most of us. But this argument must also be challenged.
“We have deliberately chosen to call for higher welfare indoors systems for chickens because they are viable worldwide and often require relatively small changes to existing systems. And when companies improve animal welfare standards, it doesn’t always cost consumers extra, particularly when the changes are happening on a large scale, which can further reduce costs.”
He points out that where prices must rise the industry can get consumers to accept them by telling the positive animal welfare story behind the increases.
“We went through the same thing with eggs when companies were concerned it would be too much to produce eggs from hens not reared in cages.”
“It is not always possible to have higher welfare meat and for it to cost nothing. But people choose to invest in things all the time – like gym memberships for their health, Fairtrade chocolate etc. There is a very compelling argument to invest in products that have come from an animal that has had a life worth living.”