Only a few years ago, it may have appeared unfathomable for McDonald’s to make a commitment to use 100% cage-free eggs in its restaurants, or for poultry giant Perdue to announce game-changing reforms for chickens raised for meat. One might have never imagined entire states, including California, Massachusetts and Washington, mandating bans on the production and sales of eggs from caged hens. But these successes are not only real, they represent just a fraction of the tremendous change that’s now under way in the food industry with regards to chickens.
At the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, we have made it one of our top priorities to improve the lives of chickens, among the most beleaguered animals in the food industry. Of the 80 billion land animals raised and slaughtered for food, the vast majority are chickens. In the United States alone, chickens make up a whopping nine billion of the roughly 10 billion land animals slaughtered each year.
Chickens are surprisingly intelligent, inquisitive, social animals. They have a complex system of communication with different kinds of alarm calls to alert each other to aerial or ground predators. Hens are protective mothers who actively teach their young. They are good social learners and will copy each other’s successful behaviors. Like other animals, they deserve to be treated well.
But in the conventional food industry, these birds are not treated like sentient animals. In fact, from the moment they hatch, their lives are filled with distress and suffering.
In the egg industry, hundreds of millions of hens are confined in tiny, barren cages, which are so crowded that they can’t even spread their wings. In the meat industry, billions more are kept in dark, densely stocked warehouses. They’re bred to grow so large so fast, that if they were human, it would be the equivalent of a two-month-old human baby weighing 660 pounds. As a result many have leg bone abnormalities and difficulty walking and can suffer heart attacks and lung failure.
Hens used for meat are slaughtered using an outdated and crude system that may leave birds fully conscious when their throats are cut. Some even drown in defeathering tanks filled with scalding-hot water.
Our global and U.S. farm animal protection teams are tackling these problems with rigor and energy. We have worked with citizens and lawmakers to secure passage of ballot measures and laws in multiple states to ban the production and sales of eggs from caged hens. We've forged relationships with the world's largest food companies across North and South America, Europe and Asia to eliminate their use of eggs from caged hens. We are working with such companies to mandate sweeping reforms to improve the welfare of chickens in their meat supply chains.
Globally, our teams are working to drive down demand for meat by increasing the availability and popularity of plant-based meals. We’ve forged partnerships with the largest food service companies like Compass Group, Sodexo and Aramark — serving tens of millions of meals every day—to focus their menus less on meat and more on plants. Stateside, we’re working with military bases, prisons, hospitals, K-12 school districts and more to reduce their meat usage. We’re training thousands of corporate culinary staff every year to support these goals.
These policies are already leading to a dramatic reduction in the amount of animal suffering worldwide, and we will continue to make tremendous strides in years to come.
The HSUS and HSI take on the toughest fights, and although we still have a long road ahead, the writing is on the wall. Consumers are increasingly turning away from food that comes with cruelty, and major leaders in the food industry are embracing the idea that good animal welfare is good business.
You can get involved in making this change happen. Learn more here about how plant-based eating benefits people, animals and the planet.