PUBLISHED ON: 10 February 2012
Last weekend, authorities in Victoria legally seized 700,000 factory farmed chickens within four farms owned by a major poultry producer. The birds — some less than a week old — were at risk of starvation due to the company's financial trouble and inability to continue to feed them.
Whilst charges against this producer are likely, others will continue to operate despite thousands of 'meat' chickens dying in their sheds under 'standard' operating conditions every week.
According to the Australian Chicken Meat Federation's own statistics, about 4% of chickens die — or in their terms, 'are lost' — before they are sent to slaughter. With more than half a billion chickens raised for their meat in Australia just last year, this amounts to an estimated 22 million birds every year, or 60,000 per day — suffering and dying in their sheds. Despite this appalling situation, industry operators remain free from prosecution, protected by a 'code of practice'.
'Meat' chickens have become some of the worst victims of industrialised farming's never ending desire for expediency and profit. Through selective breeding, chickens now grow at four times their natural growth rate. As a result, their immature bodies are often unable to cope, and many birds suffer from leg problems and are unable to properly move or stand. This leaves some birds incapable of reaching food or water and they are left to die from thirst or starvation.
In an attempt to disguise the cruel nature of their business, some major chicken producers are using misleading claims to convince consumers that the animals are well cared for.
Last year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took the producers of chicken brands Steggles and La Ionica, and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation to court for using the slogan 'free to roam'. Factory farmed chickens in reality each have less space in their sheds than the size of an A4 piece of paper, and the high population densities make it impossible for them to roam around freely.
Early January, La Ionica's owner Turi Foods settled the case and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine, but the remaining defendants are less keen to give up their misleading label and will face the ACCC in court in March. In the mean time, hope for millions of birds rests with informed consumers refusing to buy into cruelty. Click here to learn how to become a compassionate shopper, and how you can make a difference to the lives of animals every time you shop.