There is no doubt, that chicken is the most popular meat to consume in the United States. It’s viewed as a cleaner, leaner protein than beef, and lots of people eat it while they are dieting or trying to get “healthy”. Did you know that over 8 billion chickens are farmed for meat every year in this country? Eight billion!
To meet this extreme demand for chicken, much of the industry breeds and feeds chickens in a way that maximizes their profits without adequately taking the welfare of the animals into account. Their practices are also wreaking havoc on our environment, which is putting us all at risk even if we don’t eat meat.
The truth about how most chickens are raised in this country will make your stomach turn! (Unfortunately, it’s nothing like the photo below).
Visiting Pasture Raised Chickens
I reached out to my friends over at Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) to get some hard facts about the chicken industry to share with you. They have done extensive research and are fearless advocates for the humane treatment of farm animals, and I really respect their work. CIWF produced this viral whistleblowing video that exposed a Perdue chicken farm – but beware, it’s graphic!
How chickens are raised on factory farms:
- They don’t have room to move freely. The chickens are packed together so tightly that as they grow there isn’t enough room for them to walk. It’s considered “standard” to only allow ⅔ of a square foot of room per chicken, so they’ll pack 30,000 chickens in a 20,000 square foot shed!
- They don’t have access to natural light. Their entire 6-week lifespan is spent in a windowless shed where they can’t see any sunlight. The artificial lighting is kept on longer than daylight hours to keep the chickens awake so that they eat more and grow bigger faster.
- They sit in ammonia-ridden waste all day. Chicken sheds can contain all the feces from thousands of birds because the litter isn’t always changed between flocks, and when chickens sit in this waste their chests can become red and raw (see pic below).
- They are routinely fed antibiotics. To prevent diseases in the super cramped and dirty quarters that they live in, and also to fatten them up on less food, chickens are often fed antibiotics in their daily feed. This makes them a breeding ground for superbugs that are spreading to humans, making antibiotics less effective when we need them. Thankfully many companies finally see the light and are stopping this practice, but we still have years to go.
- They have been bred to be gigantic. Fully grown chickens today can weigh 9 pounds, but the average chicken only weighed 2 pounds in the 1950’s. These unnaturally large chickens can barely walk or breathe while trying to support all this extra weight!
Is this the type of chicken you should be eating and feeding to your family?
Because I love animals so much, I am disgusted with these practices. That is why if I’m at a restaurant or somewhere that I don’t know how the chicken (or any meat for that matter) was raised, I won’t eat it.
If you eat meat, it’s so important to think-twice about where you get it from. Of course it’s cheaper to buy whatever meat is on sale, but the only way these practices will change is when enough people refuse to buy factory farmed products.
It’s easy to get hoodwinked into buying factory farmed meat if you’re not careful.
Meat companies like to try to get you with pictures of happy farms and terms like “Natural”, “Humanely Raised”, and “Cage Free” on their packaging. Don’t fall for it!
Even chicken labeled as “Natural” or “Humanely Raised” – like Simple Truth and Harvestland – have been caught red-handed raising their chickens on factory farms. The terms “Humanely Raised” and “Natural” are not properly regulated and don’t mean what they should, so don’t rely on shady marketing tactics that use these terms!
Another one that fools so many people is the term “No Added Hormones”. When you’re shopping for chicken (or any type of poultry), remember that growth hormones are already banned from poultry production. The same goes for “Cage Free” on chicken, because only chickens raised for eggs can be caged. So, all chicken meat has been raised without hormones and cage-free, and the use of those terms is completely meaningless and is used just to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling about their product.
Look for labels that really mean something like these:
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) – This label ensures independent certification that the chickens were raised on sustainable pasture-based family farms (like my picture above). Chickens that are humanely raised on pastures are healthier and more nutritious with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. (Search the AWA directory here)
Certified Organic (with exceptions) – Sadly, organic chicken can be raised in factory farm conditions and this label does not ensure they were raised much more humanely than conventional chickens. However, routine antibiotics and GMOs are prohibited from their food, and they are fed only organic food. Organic chickens must also be given access to the outdoors. Look for this label along with the Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane, or the Global Animal Partnership (steps 4, 5, 5+) label.
Ideally, buy directly from your local farmers!
There is no better way to know what you are buying than to go to your local farms. You can connect online with farmers markets, subscription-based Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), buying clubs and farms at:
Besides, you really don’t need to eat meat every day. There are many sustainable protein sources!
Instead of eating meat at every meal like almost everyone else, I fill up my plate with vegetables, fruits, grains, beans and nuts. My philosophy on eating meat is simple. I don’t eat it every day, I treat it like a condiment, and only ever eat it if I know exactly where it came from. If this seems extreme to you, give it a try yourself and you might be surprised at how great you feel! This will also help you save money because meat is so expensive. I have a bunch of meatless recipes on the blog here to get you started!
If you don’t have access to sustainably raised meat in your community, write a letter like this to your local grocery store with this information and ask them to carry meat that is humanely certified and organic. Making your voice heard at your local stores is one of the fastest ways to change things for the better!
If you know someone who still eats and buys conventional chicken, please share this post with them! Together we can make a change.