Last summer, I reported on the launch of one of The HSUS’s biggest and most important campaigns in its 63-year history: an effort to improve conditions for the nine billion chickens we raise and slaughter for food each year in this country. These birds — called broilers — represent nine out of every 10 animals caught up in the food and agriculture industries, and they suffer in ways that are simply out of step with Americans’ values about how animals ought to be treated. Now, we are calling on every major food retailer to get on board with our campaign.
Thanks to a successful campaign The HSUS launched a few years ago, millions of people are now familiar with the plight of egg-laying hens—animals who languish in cages so restrictive that they can barely move. A broiler bird’s body is something of a physiological cage for the animal. Bred to grow so large so fast, they suffer crippling leg deformities that prevent billions of them from even walking. On top of that, these animals live in chronic pain. They suffer heart attacks and lung failure at alarming rates, because their still-maturing bodies can’t keep up with the enormous weight gain forced upon them. Moreover, they experience these maladies as babies, even though we think of such conditions as the kind that afflict animals in their later stages of life.
These birds are also housed in jam-packed warehouses that lack the environmental enrichments necessary to allow them to express a good share of their normal and natural behaviors. They’re slaughtered using an outdated and crude system that results in birds having their throats cut while fully conscious and some even drowning to death in scalding-hot water. From the moment they leave the shell, these animals’ lives are little more than a sequence of human-caused forms of misery, suffering, and abuse.
Fortunately, we’re starting to see some changes.
For over a decade, we’ve been working with the nation’s largest food companies to address animal welfare problems in their supply chains. Thanks to our work, and your support, more than 80 companies have announced plans to end gestation crate confinement of mother pigs in the pork supply, and hundreds have announced plans to shift to 100 percent cage-free eggs.
With pigs and hens on their way out of crates and cages, our sights turn to broiler birds. Since we launched our broiler campaign in 2016, The HSUS and other animal protection organizations working on this issue have seen what’s now become a familiar cascade of corporate announcements.
The companies that have pledged to change how their suppliers breed, raise, and slaughter chickens include Restaurant Brands International (Popeye’s, Burger King, and Tim Horton’s), Jack in the Box, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Aramark, Sodexo, Compass Group, TGI Fridays, Red Robin, Starbucks, Shake Shack, and Quiznos. Even Perdue — one of the largest chicken suppliers in the country — has pledged to tackle these issues.
We have a long way to go, but there’s real momentum behind our campaign. We’re appealing to the other players in the food industry to join the companies listed here and get on board with these long overdue reforms.
In the emerging humane economy, it’s become a bottom-line imperative for businesses to take actions aligned with the values of their customers. We know that Americans simply do not support animal exploitation of this kind, and even the food industry’s own studies show that the public’s sense of compassion extends to animals raised for food. With so many major brands paving the way toward a better future for broilers, the trajectory is clear. The public will reward those brands and players that join us sooner rather than later.