50 billion chickens are raised intensively for their meat annually, worldwide.
Chickens have been selectively bred to grow three times their natural rate, impacting significantly on their physical well-being, as this rapid growth puts enormous pressure on their hearts and immature skeletons.
Millions of birds die in sheds every year before they even reach slaughter age. Up to 20 million die in sheds each year in Australia as a direct result of how they are being farmed.
'RSPCA Approved' The RSPCA Approved system accredits chicken farms to RSPCA standards. Chickens on these farms can be raised in either a free range or indoor system. Chickens in an RSPCA Approved indoor farm have no access to an outdoor area. However, the welfare standards are higher than in conventional factory farms.RSPCA standards
'Certified Free Range' Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of the term free range in Australia so standards between farms can vary. The logos on the packaging indicate that the chickens were raised on farms with access to an outdoor range.
* Note: The RSPCA Approved logo alone does not guarantee outdoor access - you may also find the RSPCA Approved logo on chickens raised in an indoor housing system that conforms to RSPCA welfare standards. Only RSPCA Approved products that are also labelled 'free range' come from farms where the chickens were raised with access to an outdoor range.
'Certified Organic' Certified organic chicken products come from chickens kept on farms which exceed standards in the best free range facilities. However, simply the word 'organic' on packaging can sometimes mislead people to think the welfare of chickens meets certified organic standards - when it may simply mean that chickens are fed organic feed. These logos on the packaging indicate that the chickens were raised on a certified organic farm.
Factory Farmed RSPCA Approved Indoor FREPA Certified Free Range RSPCA Approved Outdoor Certified Organic Do birds have access to the outdoors? 5 NO YES No maximum density specified YES Up to 170,000 birds/hectare YES Maximum of 2,500 birds/hectare Is environmental enrichment required? NO YES (small bales of straw required) Not specified YES (small bales of straw required) MAYBE (ACO requires perches) How many birds can be kept per square metre when in the shed? 5 Up to 20Up to 17 Up to 15 (+ access to outdoors) Up to 17 (+ access to outdoors) 5 - 12 (depending on certification body) (+ access to outdoors) Can birds be exposed to periods of artificial light to speed up weight gain? 4 YES (up to 23 hours per day) YES (up to 20 hours per day) Not specified YES (up to 20 hours per day) MAYBE (depends on certification body) 4 Can birds be kept with tens of thousands in one single shed? YES NO Are birds slaughtered before they reach maturity? YES (at 4-6 weeks) YES (commonly at 8 weeks) Are birds bred to grow unnaturally fast? (Fast growth may be associated with significant welfare problems.) 6 YES
It is important that consumers are aware that there are ethical and welfare issues common to all chicken farming systems - including certified free-range and certified organic. Regardless of the system the chickens are raised in, they will be transported and slaughtered in similar facilities at a young age, when they are in fact still just juvenile birds.
Birds are commonly handled roughly during the catching process, which is done under time pressure. They are grabbed by the legs and stuffed into transport crates with hardly any room to move. Many birds break bones in the process. During transport - which can be many hours non- stop - they can be exposed to weather extremes and are not provided with any food or water. At the slaughterhouse, their last glimpse of the world will be hanging upside down with feet shackled in metal stirrups. Their heads will be drawn through an electrified water bath to stun them unconscious (some slaughter plants now use a gas immersion killing system) before an automatic knife cuts their throat. Some birds are not so 'lucky'. Those who raise their heads and miss the electrified water bath face the throat cutting machine while fully conscious.