A better life for meat chickens: SPCA calls for New Zealand food businesses to join the Better Chicken Commitment
Over 100 million chickens are farmed for meat in New Zealand each year. Modern chicken breeds grow too quickly, resulting in painful health problems. The Better Chicken Commitment is an opportunity for food businesses to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable and ethical food production.
SPCA has joined eleven local and international animal NGOs - including Animals Aotearoa, Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa, Animals Australia, Compassion in World Farming, the Humane League and World Animal Protection - in calling for food businesses to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment.
What is the Better Chicken Commitment?
The Commitment is a set of evidence-based standards that aims to improve the lives of chickens farmed for meat.
It includes requirements that chickens are provided with platforms for perching/resting, given more space per bird, and that slower-growing breeds are used.
The Commitment has been hugely successful in the European Union and the United States, with over 500 food businesses signing up to protect chicken welfare in their supply chains - including supermarkets, fast food chains and meal kit companies.
Now it’s time for food businesses in New Zealand to commit to higher welfare practices, and we are proud to be part of the launch of an Australia & New Zealand version of the Commitment.
How will it help chickens?
The initiative is an opportunity for New Zealand food businesses to demonstrate their commitment to higher animal welfare standards.
New Zealanders are increasingly calling for their food to be produced sustainably and ethically, and there is a growing international movement of companies pledging to improve the welfare of chickens farmed for meat.
SPCA believes that commitments like these are required because conventional chicken breeds – including those in free-range systems - are bred to grow too quickly, typically reaching slaughter weight at around five weeks.
SPCA’s scientific officer for farmed animals, Marie McAninch, says the quality of life for the meat chicken breeds in New Zealand deteriorates quickly because of the speed of their growth.
“Meat chickens often suffer from painful conditions such as lameness and cardiovascular problems,” says McAninch. “Their painful health conditions are usually a direct result of their breed and growth speed, so SPCA strongly advocates for the introduction of slower-growing, healthier breeds of chicken into New Zealand.”
The conditions in which many meat chickens live is also concerning. It is important that chickens are provided with appropriate lighting, enough space, and effective and suitable enrichment material that allows for a range of species-specific behaviours such as scratching, foraging, pecking and dust-bathing.
The Better Chicken Commitment is a way for companies to address these problems and better protect the welfare of chickens.
In November 2021, Domino’s New Zealand demonstrated their animal welfare leadership by being one of the first in Australia and New Zealand to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment and agree to implement its standards by 2026 - joining over 500 food business worldwide. SPCA congratulates them on taking the opportunity and hopes that others in the region will follow.
SPCA will be reaching out to food businesses to encourage and support them to sign up to the Commitment. We are hopeful that New Zealand food businesses will be as keen to sign up as their overseas counterparts have been.