The love that we have for all animals is what inspired us to begin this blog in 2007. So animal cruelty, of any kind, is something we do not take lightly. There are probably not many people who know and understand what the term “factory farmed chickens” actually means. I am sure you can take a guess, and if I were going on intuition, I would say that it doesn’t sound good at all. Thankfully, we are aware of this process and the practices designed to maximize efficiency and profit, and little regard for animals’ well-being, sentience or natural behaviors.
In the U.S., there are more chickens raised for meat than any other land animal raised for food. Nearly 9 billion chickens are slaughtered each year in the U.S. Most of those birds are raised in giant, crowded sheds and bred to grow unnaturally fast, with massive chests for breast meat. Unable to support this weight, many birds spend virtually their entire lives sitting in their own waste, their breasts and legs developing open sores. In addition to being inhumane, these practices can promote foodborne illnesses, and chicken now causes more outbreaks and hospitalizations than any other animal food. Sounds like the kind of food you want to be eating, right? Probably not.
So, what can you do about it? The ASPCA is hoping to raise awareness about the plight of factory farmed chickens in order to inspire the public to demand healthier, more humane conditions. They launched Change Your Chicken– a 30 day challenge that encourages Americans to shift all their chicken purchases from the worst factory farmed products to more humanely raised products.
There are some pretty shady foods and labels out there, so make sure you are doing your research. Even then, don’t be fooled by fancy words and claims. Words like Organic, humanely raised, natural, cage free, free range, hormone free, antibiotic free and vegetarian fed, are thrown around all over the place. But in reality, they do not mean much.
A great example is “Cage Free.” This is a misleading claim for meat chickens because, unlike egg-laying hens, they are never raised in cages. If someone claims “Hormone Free,” well of course they are, because it is already illegal to feed hormones to chickens. So you aren’t getting anything different than what anyone else has. Another great claim is “Antibiotic Free.” Antibiotics are fed to animals on factory farms as a band aid fix for unhealthy living conditions. However, removing drugs does not alone make for a more humane system.
A few good ways to start your search for healthier meat are to find meats that have specific standards with labels that match those standards:
Animal Welfare Approved – Look for chickens that have continuous access to pasture or range. No feedlots. Cage confinement, hormones and sub-therapeutic antibiotics prohibited. Standards extend to breeding animals, transport and slaughter.
Certified Humane, Raised & Handled –Look for chickens that have continuous outdoor access for ruminants. Cage confinement, hormones and sub-therapeutic antibiotics prohibited. Minimum space allowance and bedding required for indoor environments.
Global Animal Partnership 5 Step Program (Steps 2 and above) –Step 2: indoor space and enrichment requirements. Step 3: outdoor access. Step 4: access to pasture. Step 5: full pasture environment. Step 5+: slaughter on farm.
Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved and Global Animal Partnership (levels 2 and above) represent a range of higher-welfare practices, but all three certify that the chicken you’re buying was not subjected to the terrible crowding, filth, sickness and suffering found on the worst factory farms.
So what exactly is this challenge and how can you make a difference?
- Take the 30 day pledge not to purchase chicken from extreme factory farming conditions.
- If you eat chicken products, challenge yourself to find brands that are certified by either Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved or Global Animal Partnership levels 2 and above. Once you’re signed up, we will email you helpful tips, resources and facts to support you through this 30 day challenge.
- Download and print this supermarket request card to hand to store managers when you can’t find higher-welfare certified products.
- Share this challenge with your friends and family. We want 50,000 Americans to take this challenge. That’s a call for change the chicken industry can’t ignore! Make sure when you post, you use #ChangeYourChicken and get others to do that too!
The ASPCA hopes that by participating in the Change Your Chicken Challenge, you inspire consumers to question the claims on packages and look for these third-party audited certifications whenever possible, not just on chicken but all animal products. Once you’ve completed the thirty-day challenge the fight is not over! Here are a few ways to help farm animals:
- Share the Change Your Chicken Challenge with as many friends as you can! We’re just getting started.
- Learn more about how farm animals are raised and the few laws that govern their treatment.
- Download our meat, eggs and dairy label guide to avoid factory farmed animal products of all kinds and seek out trustworthy higher-welfare certifications whenever possible.
- Sign up for the ASPCA advocacy brigade to be the first to know when we need your help contacting state representatives to push for laws that protect farm animals.