As a result of modern breeding techniques, today’s chickens and turkeys are chronically sick and immunocompromised, suffering from unnecessary and painful problems with skeletal development, heart and lung function, and obesity.
Genetics is one of the most important aspects of animal welfare
This video highlights heritage poultry farmer Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, who is featured prominently in the documentary film Eating Animals. As you’ll see, Frank’s mission (and part of ours) is to preserve and rebuild a system of raising animals wholly independent from factory farms.
In the U.S. and many nations around the globe, virtually all chickens, turkeys, and eggs come from genetically modified birds—including those labeled natural, organic, and free-range or bearing animal welfare certifications. The genetic abuse of these birds has led to fast growth at the expense of the animals’ health. Hybrid birds are bred to maximize weight gain in minimal time, leading to severe welfare problems from birth to death.
Chronic hunger is an often-overlooked genetic welfare issue, but it is endemic in breeder lines essential for producing today’s fast-growing broiler chickens. These birds are physiologically incapable of ever feeling satisfied after eating feed; they are condemned to live in the agitated state of animals desperately trying to fill their stomachs. By genetically preventing birds from experiencing satiety, producers ensure that the birds will keep eating, thereby gaining weight more quickly. The cost in terms of welfare is difficult to calculate, amounting to a new form of genetic abuse.
Bigger cages, going cage-free, and providing birds enrichments like perches do nothing to address genetic welfare. As the first national organization to focus on poultry’s genetic welfare, Farm Forward successfully advocated for the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) to phase out the fastest-growing strains of chickens, which currently account for more than 99 percent of chicken meat sold in the U.S. Through promoting heritage poultry, Farm Forward advocates for the highest welfare genetics, so that birds are bred to be healthy, comfortable, and hardy, rather than optimized for fast growth at the expense of health. Until the poultry industry transitions from hybrid to breeds of birds with at least as good genetics as the birds raised through the 1970’s, we call on conscious consumers to avoid its products.
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Farmed animals today are overwhelmingly genetically uniform, immunocompromised, and crammed together by the tens of thousands—a perfect petri dish for creating pandemics.