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This is Clarice. She is one of tens of billions of meat chickens reared annually to feed us. It’s a huge industry, but it doesn’t need to be industrial.
On the organic farm where Clarice lives life is pretty good; she spends time with the other chickens (who are a sociable bunch), pecks the ground for seeds and insects, runs, walks and perches like all chickens need to.
Clarice is allowed to grow and develop at a natural pace, free from artificial growth hormones. The exercise she takes means that the meat Clarice will eventually provide has less than half the fat of that from intensively reared birds.
And that’s not the only difference between them.
The majority of industrially farmed chickens live out their brief lives in windowless sheds with up to 50,000 other birds. It’s not somewhere Clarice would recognise. They have nowhere to rest but dirty litter, and often suffer from painful blisters on their chests and and feet from sitting in wet dirty litter.
Forced to grow super-fast through a combination of genetics, high-protein feed and often growth-promoting chemicals, these animals’ hearts, lungs and bones struggle to keep pace.
A fast growing six-week old bird carries the weight of a chicken twice its age and, as a result, millions of chickens suffer crippling leg disorders or succumb to heart failure every year.
Industrial farming is terrible for chickens. But what about us?
As well as producing a fattier meat, industrial chicken farming has a number of other risks for our health.
Antibiotic use has grown with the rise of the commercial chicken industry. Used to promote unnaturally fast growth in some countries and to treat illnesses that are much more likely in crowded industrial conditions, these drugs can be passed on in the chickens’ meat. Some studies have connected human resistance to antibiotics with their use in industrial farming.
So farming that considers the animal’s needs is kinder AND can play a vital part in protecting our health.