GUEST BLOG: Handling chicken with care
April 5, 2017
by Tom Super
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Over the past few decades, chicken on-farm mortality rates have dropped by 450 percent, demonstrating the pride and commitment that chicken farmers, veterinarians and producers have imbedded in the care of broiler chickens. Despite this demonstrated care, recent claims made by activists and in the mainstream media have insinuated that broilers are “suffering” or being “abused.” Such claims simply have no basis in reality and they are an insult to the hard work of the 25,000 farm families who work every day to put chicken on our tables. The reality is that broiler chickens are as healthy as they have ever been.
Raising chickens that “suffer” doesn’t make sense from a welfare or business perspective. If a chicken is suffering it can’t eat and won’t grow, and therefore may not make it to market. The goal of producers is to raise chickens that are healthy, able to roam, eat and drink, grow to market weight and feed families across America.
The same logic can be used to tackle the myth that chickens are “suffering” because they grow too fast and big. It is true that today’s chickens grow bigger and faster than the chickens from years past. It is also true that today’s chickens are healthier, more affordable and are able to feed more people than chickens from years past, while having less impact on the environment.
What is not true is that chickens are suffering as a result.
Although chickens have increased in size, bird health and environmental sustainability has been consistently improving over time. All current measurable data – livability, disease, condemnation, digestive and leg health – reflect that the national broiler flock is healthier than in previous years.
There is a tremendous amount of science and animal husbandry that goes into breeding and raising today’s chickens. Through traditional breeding, breeders ensure bird size and growth rate never come at the expense of the birds’ health or welfare. While chickens today are bred to grow faster, they’re also bred to grow stronger and healthier.
Farmers and scientists have strengthened the genetic lines of their flocks by identifying which chickens are the healthiest and strongest, and then breeding them together. Today’s chicken breeders use DNA mapping and animal health diagnostic tools to detect underlying traits like heart health, susceptibility to disease, bone density and joint health to identify the best birds to breed, improving both the health and size of the next generation of chickens.
For example leg problems are significantly less prevalent than they were 20 years ago because farmers and breeders began breeding chickens for leg strength and overall skeletal health.
Today’s broiler chickens are also raised by farmers who are committed to welfare and care. From the moment chicks arrive to the farm, they are provided with optimal nutrition, veterinary care and an environment in which they can thrive. Between nutritious feed, access to food and water 24/7, daily farmer check-ins, veterinary care and modern housing – the living conditions for broilers are designed to ensure chickens thrive.
We understand that the burden of proof for the care of the chickens we eat falls squarely on farmers and the industry. That’s why we invite the public to come and take as close of a look at our birds, their lives and how they get to our dinner tables, by visiting www.chickencheck.in.
The National Chicken Council and its members urge foodservice companies to take a close look at these facts when making business decisions about their chicken supply chain, and to not rely on claims being spread by activists and misinformed media sources.
We take pride in the care of our chickens, continue to provide the best care to the birds, and we pledge to work every day to improve.
Tom Super is the senior vice president of communications with the National Chicken Council.