Humane Society International


BRUSSELS—In the wake of COVID-19 outbreaks on mink farms throughout Europe—which have also laid bare the cruel conditions under which these animals are intensively confined—leading animal protection organisations today held an online conference to address the animal welfare and public health concerns associated with fur production. This event was organised in collaboration with the European Parliament’s Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals. Watch a recording of the conference.

Hosted by MEPs Anja Hazekamp (GUE/NGL), Niels Fuglsang (S&D) and Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg (Greens/EFA), this timely event brought together politicians and policymakers with prominent experts on animal welfare, veterinary epidemiology, NGOs and even a former fur industry insider to consider the animal welfare and disease risk problems related to exploiting fur-bearing species, such as mink and foxes, for their pelts. Recent footage from fur farm investigations was also screened to illustrate the inherent welfare problems involved in fur production.

Dutch MEP, Animal Welfare Intergroup President and Vice-Chair of the Parliament’s Environment Committee, Anja Hazekamp said:

“Confining wild animals in small wire cages for the trivial purpose of fur production should be consigned to the past. The horrific footage from Polish and Finnish fur farms, which we have seen at today’s meeting, are far from unique. We saw exactly the same kind of images of animal suffering on fur farms in the Netherlands over a quarter of a century ago when the political debate on banning fur production began. In the past days, the very last mink on Dutch farms were gassed to death and the cages stand empty after the industry phase-out was brought forward to eliminate potential coronavirus reservoirs. Fur farming is now over in my country. I look forward to the day when we can end the suffering of all animals on fur farms and see a completely fur-free Europe”

Dr Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International/Europe, added:

“In the past months, the public has been confronted with the fact that fur farms are not only places of enormous animal suffering, but they can also act as virus factories. The living conditions on fur farms, which confine wild species at high densities and in close proximity, fail to satisfy the animals’ most basic welfare needs, leaving them highly stressed, which can lead to their immune systems being compromised. The outbreaks of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on fur farms have confronted us with the terrifying reality that fur factory farms create ideal conditions for diseases to propagate from one animal to another, and for viruses to mutate into forms potentially virulent to humans. We don’t need frivolous fur fashion. And we certainly don’t need these unnecessary reservoirs for coronaviruses. More than ever, it is time to make fur history.”

Reineke Hameleers, CEO, Eurogroup for Animals, noted:

“Given the urgency of the situation we believe it is high time for the Commission to show leadership and introduce measures to suspend fur farming across the EU. The potential risks of the SARS-CoV-2 virus further spreading and potentially mutating, pose serious threats across borders and require an EU approach. We trust that this proposal will be made at the forthcoming AgriFish Council meeting. In the longer term we believe the moment is ripe to phase out this sector once and for all. Several EU surveys have shown that the vast majority of EU citizens do not approve of fur farming and 11 EU countries have already banned or restricted this industry or are in the process of doing so. The pandemic has put the spotlight on the vulnerability of fur farming which end is long overdue.”

Facts:

  • Eight EU Member States have officially identified COVID-19 positive animals on mink farms: Denmark (289 farms), France (1 farm), Greece (12 farms), Italy (1 farm), Lithuania (1 farm), Netherlands (70 farms), Spain (1 farm), Sweden (13 farms).
  • Researchers at the Medical University of Gdansk also found eight COVID-19 positive mink on a fur farm in Poland.
  • SARS-CoV-2 virus has also been found in mink on 16 US fur farms and one Canadian mink farm.
  • Mink-to-human transmission was first identified in the Netherlands through whole genome sequencing and has also been found in Denmark. The emergence of a new mink variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was detected in Denmark leading to fears that this COVID-19 mutation moving from mink to humans could jeopardise future vaccines. This variant had already been found in 12 people in northern Denmark.
  • On 4th November 2020, the findings of the State Serum Institute led to Danish government announcing the radical step of culling all mink on the remaining fur farms and a temporary ban on mink production in the country.
  • In 2013, the Netherlands adopted a ban on fur farming. The industry was due to be phased-out by 1st January 2024. However, the Dutch government forced an early shutdown of its mink industry due to continuing outbreaks of COVID-19 – despite the adoption of strict biosecurity measures and preventative culling of all affected mink herds – on its remaining fur farms.
  • The Irish Department of Agriculture recommended that farmed mink in Ireland should be culled and restocking prohibited on its remaining three fur farms. A ban on fur farming was already pending.
  • Fur farming has already been prohibited and/or is in the process of being phased-out in various EU Member States, such as Austria Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.
  • Legislative proposals to ban fur farming are currently also under consideration, or have been announced, in 6 countries including Poland, Lithuania, France, Ireland, Bulgaria and Estonia.
  • In addition to these fur farming bans and industry phase-outs, Germany adopted stricter regulations, which have effectively eliminated the breeding of all animals for fur; Sweden similarly eliminated fox and chinchilla production in this way. Denmark has also prohibited and is phasing out the breeding of foxes on animal welfare grounds.
  • Hungary has also just announced a ban on mink, fox, ferret and coypu production as a precautionary measure due to animal welfare and COVID-19 concerns to prevent fur producers from moving their operations there.

Watch video of the conference.

Read the white paper on Fur Farming, COVID-19 and Zoonotic Disease Risks.

ENDS 

Media contact: Wendy Higgins: whiggins@hsi.org 

Humane Society International / United Kingdom


A is for Accountable: The McCartney A to Z Manifesto: Spring 2021 Collection is a guiding alphabet of the values and vision of iconic British designer Stella McCartney. A is for accountable—personified by the Adrienne coat, made from repurposed #FurFreeFur, and an original piece by American artist Rashid Johnson titled ‘Accountability’. Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States are proud to work alongside Stella McCartney to strive for a fur free future, and we are delighted to profile the first letter of the A to Z Manifesto that so encapsulates our shared values.

A statement from Stella McCartney:

“A is for Accountablesomething Humane Society International, the HSUS and Stella McCartney have very much in common, and that we both strive towards in our day-to-day work. Being accountable in this day and age is so important, and is one of the goals of the McCartney A to Z Manifesto. It is a guiding alphabet of who we are and who we hope to be, and I hope that our commitment to the values and vision contained in it will not only keep my team accountable but also have a positive impact on the fashion industry as a whole. I am so proud to have worked closely with HSI and the HSUS for many years now, and hugely admire and support their ongoing commitment and endless campaign work towards helping to prohibit the sales of fur in the fashion industry, and therefore preventing the death of millions of innocent animals.

“At Stella McCartney, we have never used leather, feathers, fur or exotic skins in our collections and we do not believe that animals should die for the sake of fashion. It is incredible to see that over the past few years countless brands, designers, leading department stores and even states and countries have woken up to the unequivocal cruelty of the fur industry and have subsequently stopped using fur in their collections, in their stores or allowing fur to be manufactured in certain areas.

“Fur has no place in any compassionate society and today its use is unnecessary and inexcusable. Plainly, fur is immoral, cruel and barbaric.

“In addition to the overwhelming ethical reasons for banning the sale of fur, evidence and research proves that fur is completely unsustainable. The fur industry is quick in trying to defend this, by saying fur is natural and therefore sustainable but of course this is false and completely misleading. There are certainly environmental implications where faux fur is concerned, however it is now produced so well that there is no reason to wear real fur. We have been working very hard at Stella McCartney to innovate sustainable solutions like KOBA® Fur Free Furthe next generation of faux fur and the first commercially available faux fur using only bio-based ingredients, reducing energy use by up to 30 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 63 percent compared to conventional synthetics.

“I urge everyone reading this to spread the word, be accountable and hold brands accountable, not only when it comes to fur, but to protecting Mother Earth. We saw during our global moment of pause that nature can heal, which should give us hope for the futureour actions can make a difference, and the time to act is now. It has never been more important.”

Take Action: Act now to ban fur sales around the globe, starting with a #FurFreeBritain, at hsi.org/furfreebritain.

HSI calls for permanent closure of ‘virus factory’ fur farms

Humane Society International


Mark Hicken/Alamy A male mink at a fur farm. 

LONDON—Kopenhagen Fur, the world’s largest fur auction house, will close its doors within the next two to three years in what could signal the beginning of the end for the global fur trade. Much of the world’s fur is traded via a handful of auction houses. Founded in 1930, Kopenhagen Fur acts as a broker for pelts produced in Denmark and around the world, including fox, chinchilla and karakul. Just hours before the announcement, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its new report Rapid Risk Assessment: Detection of new SARS-CoV-2 variants related to mink, highlighting concerns that the evolution of the virus in mink has potential implications for COVID-19 diagnosis, treatment and vaccine development, and could undermine the effectiveness of future vaccines in humans.

Dr Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International/Europe said “The ECDC risk report and the announcement by Kopenhagen Fur that it will cease trading could very well signal the beginning of the end of the worldwide fur trade. Fur farms are not only the cause of immense and unnecessary animal suffering, but they are also ticking time bombs for deadly diseases, potential virus factories capable of churning out mutations of COVID-19 and even undermining medical progress towards reliable treatments. This report should be a serious wake-up call for mink farming countries that are not yet systematically testing mink, to take urgent action.

Set against a backdrop of public rejection of fur as unethical and outdated, fur farming nations can no longer justify allowing an industry that both threatens human health and costs tax-payers billions to manage biosecurity risks and provide farmers compensation following culls. We cannot simply wait for the next pandemic to emerge. Governments must end the cruel and risky fur trade for good and focus instead on supporting fur farmers asthey move to humane, safe and economically viable livelihoods. There was never going to be a happy ending for the 60 million mink exploited for fur annually, but stopping breeding them altogether would be the best way to prevent animals suffering in the future for the fickle whims of fashion.” 

The Kopenhagen Fur auction house is a cooperative company owned by 1,500 Danish fur farmers. The disappearance of this globally important fur broker is likely to have a knock-on effect for producers in other European countries and beyond. The sale of 24.8 million mink skins were brokered through Kopenhagen Fur 2018-2019. During this time, the UK imported around £131,523 and £181,765 worth of fur from Denmark respectively—far less compared to over £ 200,000 worth of fur imported from Denmark in previous years.

We have witnessed a significant drop in pelt prices and have seen stockpiles of fur skins going unsold at auctions, sending the fur industry into a global downward spiral. We expect an even further decrease in the demand for frivolous fur as COVID-19 affects factory fur farms around the world, forcing governments to shut down operations and farmers to find new avenues of income.” said Dr. Swabe.

The ECDC report cites the need for ongoing investigations to assess whether the new ‘cluster 5’ variant, created by mink on farms, alters the risk of reinfection, or could cause reduced vaccine efficacy or reduced benefits from blood plasma treatments. It also stresses that ‘continued transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in mink farms may eventually give rise to other variants of concern’.

ECDC report key findings:

  • The overall level of risk to human health posed by SARS-CoV-2 mink-related variants is low for the general population, but moderate-to-high for medically vulnerable individuals living in areas with a high concentration of fur farms. The risk is moderate for those working with mink and very high for individuals with occupational exposure, such as fur farmers.
  • The national competent authorities must take a number of measures to decrease the risk to public health for those occupationally involved with mink and the communities where mink farms are situated, including systematic testing and sequencing of mink farm workers and nearby communities with immediate contact tracing, isolation and quarantine if human cases are related to a mink farm; infection prevention and control measures for mink farm workers and visitors; monitoring and surveillance of mink farms.

ENDS

Media contact: Leozette Roode, HSI/UK, media and campaigns manager: LRoode@hsi.org; +27 71 360 1104.

Humane Society International / United Kingdom


“There has never been a more compelling time for Denmark to shut down the sick fur industry for good”, says Humane Society International/Europe

Humane Society International


Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals A male mink at a fur farm. 

LONDONDenmark’s Prime Minister has announced a complete cull of all mink on Danish fur farms. A total of 207 out of the 1,139 fur farms in Denmark has been infected with COVID-19, which prompted the announcement. Millions of mink will be killed as a result. 

Speaking from Amsterdam, Dr Joanna Swabe, Humane Society International/Europe’s senior director of public affairs, said: “Denmark is one of the largest fur producers on the planet, so a total shut down of all Danish mink fur farms amidst spiralling COVID-19 infections, is a significant development. Although not a ban on fur farming, this move signals the end of suffering for millions of animals confined to small wire cages on Danish fur farms solely for the purposes of a trivial fur fashion that no-one needs.

The Danish Prime Minister is taking this essential and science-led step to protect Danish citizens from the deadly coronavirus and ensuring that the effectiveness of any vaccine is not compromised by mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus from its mink hosts.

With COVID-19 having already been detected on 207 of the 1,139 fur farms in Denmark and over 1.2 million mink having already been culled as a result, the risk of keeping these virus reservoirs operating is far too great. 

A decline in the public demand for fur fashion has led to a significant drop in pelt prices and stockpiles of fur skins going unsold at auctions. Although the death of millions of mink – whether culled for COVID-19 or killed for fur – is an animal welfare tragedy, fur farmers will now have a clear opportunity to pivot away from this cruel and dying industry and choose a more humane and sustainable livelihood instead. HSI urges the Danish government to assist fur farmers to transition to other activities. There has never been a more compelling time for Denmark to shut down the sick fur industry for good”.

ENDS 

Media contact: Wendy Higgins: whiggins@hsi.org 

Humane Society International / United Kingdom


The British public opposes trophy hunting. The UK government must respond.

Humane Society International / United Kingdom


Humane Society International helps dog farmers leave the dying trade

Humane Society International / Korea (in South Korea)


Jean Chung for HSI

SEOUL—A new opinion poll in South Korea shows growing support for a ban on dog meat consumption, with 84% of those polled saying they don’t or won’t eat dog, and almost 60% supporting a legislative ban on the trade. The poll, conducted by Nielsen and commissioned by Humane Society International/Korea, is released on the day HSI/Korea rescues 170 dogs from a dog meat farm in Haemi, to seek new homes in the United States and Canada.

Key poll findings include:

  • 84% of South Koreans haven’t consumed dog meat or say they are not willing to consume it in the future.
  • 59% of South Koreans support banning dog meat, an increase of 24% from 2017, with opposition to a ban at an all-time low (fewer than half (41%) of the population.
  • 57% of South Koreans believe dog meat consumption reflects poorly on Korea, increasing from 37% in 2017.

The 170 dogs rescued by HSI were kept in filthy cages on the dog meat farm until farmer Il-Hwan Kim asked HSI for help closing after 40 years in the dog meat business. This is the 17th dog farm permanently closed down by the animal protection group, and farmer Kim’s story is becoming increasingly familiar as the decline in popularity of dog meat in South Korea sees more farmers struggle to make a living. A further 26 dogs also headed to the United States to start a new life had been saved from the dog meat trade by HSI in previous rescue operations but had been unable to leave their South Korean temporary shelter until now due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. In total, HSI is taking 196 dog meat trade survivors out of South Korea on a single flight, including a poodle, Korean jindos and mastiffs, Pomeranians, terriers and a Labrador retriever.

Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the rescue effort saw HSI’s U.S. team quarantine for two weeks at a government-sanctioned hotel in Seoul before being allowed to head to the dog meat farm to rescue the dogs. As dog adoption is not yet widely accepted in South Korea, HSI’s Shelter and Rescue partners in the United States and Canada will take the dogs and start the process of matching them with forever families. HSI hopes that its work to raise awareness about the benefits of adoption and promotion of its adoption success stories overseas, will gradually lead to more dogs finding forever families within the country.

Nara Kim, HSI/Korea’s dog meat campaign manager, says: “Every dog meat farm I’ve visited has a horrible stench of faeces and rotting food, but there is something different about this dog farm, it smells of death. The conditions are truly pitiful, and when we found these dogs they had looks of utter despair on their faces that will haunt us forever. Many of them are covered in painful sores and wounds from neglect, some have inflamed eyes and peer out blindly from their cage. I feel grateful they can no longer see this horrible place they live in, and when they finally receive veterinary care and can open their eyes, they will never have to endure this hopelessness again.”

As the Nielsen/HSI poll shows, most South Koreans do not consume dog meat, and a growing population see dogs only as companion animals. The suffering of dogs and the unsanitary conditions on meat farms has also received far greater visibility in South Korean media in recent times, with rescues by local Korean animal welfare groups and Humane Society International/Korea featured on prime time Korean TV, contributing to rising support for a ban on this cruel industry that keeps around 2 million dogs on thousands of farms in deprived conditions.

A study from the University of Glasgow published last year revealed that dogs on South Korean dog meat farms live with chronic cumulative stress, twice as high as pet dogs living in and around Seoul. Researchers examined levels of the stress hormone cortisol in dog hair samples, including from 63 dogs rescued from farms by Humane Society International. Cortisol is released into the bloodstream by the adrenal glands when the body perceives stress. In the short term this supports a “flight or fight” response, but when cortisol is elevated for long periods it can result in negative consequences including poor immune function, greater susceptibility to disease and decreased quality of life and welfare.

Nara Kim says: “More people in South Korea are interested in animal welfare and the environment, and so when they see footage of our dog farm closures on the news showing the animal suffering and filthy conditions, or read about dog meat exposés by other Korean groups, they are really shocked and upset. The inevitable drop in sales is leading more dog farmers to look for a way out, and right now HSI runs the only scheme in the country working in partnership with dog farmers to help them start a new life. But we hope in time the Korean government will adopt this type of approach to phase out the dog meat industry for good.”

Farmer Il-Hwan Kim says in the last 10 years business has been really bad. He says: “There is no future in dog meat at all, it’s already dying and will fall apart completely. And dog farming is physically hard and I’m getting old, so I want to get out. Forty years ago it was different, but now it’s over for dog farming. I might start work in construction, because I used to work in scaffolding and there are opportunities there.”

Facts: 

  • Dog meat is most popular during the Bok days of summer in July and August based on its perceived curative properties during the hot and humid summer months.
  • Recent crackdowns by authorities to curb the dog meat industry include the shutting down of Taepyeong dog slaughterhouse (the country’s largest) by Seongnam City Council in November 2018, followed in July 2019 by the closure of Gupo dog meat market in Busan (South Korea’s second largest dog meat market after Moran market, which has also closed), and a declaration in October last year by the mayor of Seoul that the city is “dog slaughter free”. In November 2019 a Supreme Court found that a dog farmer who electrocuted dogs was in violation of the Animal Protection Act, a judgement that could have huge implications for an industry that relies almost entirely on electrocution as a killing method.
  • HSI has rescued more than 2,000 dogs from 17 South Korean dog farms. The farmers sign a 20-year contract, stipulating they will not breed dogs or any animals again, and the cages are demolished to ensure that no animals will suffer on the property in future. HSI follows up regularly to ensure compliance among past farmers.
  • This farm closure was conducted under COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, including HSI’s U.S. team quarantining in a government-sanctioned hotel for 14 days before starting the rescue. At each dog meat farm closure, HSI has a veterinarian test for the presence of the H3N2 virus (“canine influenza”), at the time the dogs receive their rabies, DHPP and coronavirus vaccines. HSI also vaccinates the dogs for distemper and parvo. HSI then quarantines the dogs on the farm or at a shelter for at least 30 days, and the dogs are health certified again prior to transport overseas.

Download b-roll video and photos of the rescue here

 ENDS

Media contact:

Nielsen online research conducted August/September 2020. Total sample size 1,000 people across six major cities in South Korea (Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon, Ulsan) weighted and representative of South Korean adults (aged 18+).

Use of wild animals in traveling circuses and keeping and breeding of dolphins and killer whales in captivity also terminated.

Humane Society International / United Kingdom


Mark Hicken, Alamy Stock photo

LONDON—French minister Barbara Pompili has announced the end of mink fur farming in France. The country’s last four remaining fur farms will have to close no later than 2025, although campaigners at Humane Society International predict that their closure may come sooner. The announcement comes a month after an undercover investigation by French animal campaigners, One Voice, revealed shocking evidence of animal suffering on mink fur farms. The announcement also included many other sweeping animal welfare reforms adopted by the French government, such as ending the use of wild animals in traveling circuses and keeping and breeding dolphins and killer whales in captivity in marine parks.

According to Fur Europe (in 2018), France produced 100,000 mink skins on five farms, but recent public pressure against cruel fur farming practices has been a major driving force behind the ban. Latest opinion polls show that 77% of French citizens favour a ban on raising and slaughtering animals for their fur. More than half a million people in France have signed the referendum for the animals, which includes a ban on fur farms.

Although the mink fur farm ban does not impact France’s Orylag rabbit fur industry, it is nonetheless a significant sign of progress towards ending the trade. Orylag fur comes from genetically manipulated rabbits who are bred in deprived, factory farm style caging.

Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK, said: “We applaud the French government for taking a stand against the immense suffering endured by mink for fur fashion. The shocking scenes showing paralysed mink displaying signs of severe distress at France’s last remaining fur farms, were enough to make the world shudder. So it is commendable that Minister Pompili has listened to the public outcry that this kind of cruelty is unacceptable. This mink fur farm ban is a great first step for France, and with mink fur production at an all-time low in France we predict and hope that these farms may close sooner than the 2025 deadline.

In the meantime, we urge the French government to also end the equally inexcusable suffering of Orylag rabbits who are farmed for fur in terrible conditions, and we call on the UK government to advance a ban on fur sales as soon as is practicable after the EU transition. For as long as the UK remains open for business to sell fur from countries overseas such as France, we are complicit in this cruelty.”  

Across Europe, 13 countries have banned fur farming, Britain being the first to do so in 2003. One Voice has been urging the Ministry of Ecology since 2017 to publish a decree to shut down all mink operation in France. In support of their campaign, HSI/UK and other members of the Fur Free Alliance—an international coalition of more than fifty animal protection organisations—wrote a letter to the French Embassy asking for a ban.

Muriel Arnal, CEO of One Voice, said: “Finally, France has a mink fur farming ban. But alas it will not take effect for a long time compared to the mink fur farm ban just announced in the Netherlands. We will keep on fighting to close down these four farms before the deadline set by the ministry of Ecology.”

Fur facts:

  • An estimated 60 million mink are farmed for their fur in 24 countries around the world, with the top three production countries China (20.6million mink), Denmark (17.6million mink) and Poland (5 million mink) in 2018.
  • A 2020 YouGov opinion poll, commissioned by HSI/UK, reveals that 93% of the British population reject wearing real animal fur, and the majority (72%) support a ban on the sale of fur in the UK. The poll also demonstrates Brits’ scathing view of fur – the words that people most closely associate with a fashion brand selling fur are ‘unethical’, ‘outdated’, ‘cruel’ and ‘out of touch’.
  • Across Europe, mink fur farms have been affected by outbreaks of COVID-19. In the Netherlands, 56 mink fur farms so far have been infected with the coronavirus, and outbreaks have also been documented on fur farms in Spain and Denmark, as well as in the United States.
  • Fur farming has been banned across the UK since 2003, and has been prohibited and/or is in the process of being phased-out in Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Croatia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and most recently the government in Ireland has committed to ending fur farming.
  • Bulgaria, Lithuania, Montenegro and Ukraine are also presently considering bans on fur farming and in Finland the majority party of the coalition government just announced its support for a ban on fur farms.
  • In the United States, California became the first US state to ban fur sales in 2019 following similar bans in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley and West Hollywood. In 2020, legislators in Hawaii and Rhode Island introduced fur sales ban proposals, as have cities in Minnesota and Massachusetts.

Download video from the latest French fur farm investigation

ENDS

Media contact: Leozette Roode: lroode@hsi.org; +27 71 360 1104

Humane Society International / United Kingdom


Alamy Stock Photo Broiler chickens on the brooding area of a commercial poultry farm.

LONDON—The largest study ever conducted on the welfare of chickens raised for meat confirms that fast-growing breeds, which make up the majority of chickens raised for commercial meat production, suffer immensely. Around the world, a staggering 60 billion chickens are bred for meat, 1.1 billion a year in the United Kingdom alone, and 9 billion in the United States, which is second only to China.

The University of Guelph, Canada, study included 7,500 chickens from 16 different strains and took two years to complete. While previous studies have also indicated that chickens raised for meat are prone to health and welfare problems, this new research demonstrates that, despite recent breeding objectives, selection for rapid growth and breast-meat yield continues to leave conventional chicken strains with significant welfare issues such as reduced mobility, foot pad lesions, muscle damage and disproportionate heart and lung development. Slower growing chickens tested in the same research trial had consistently better health and behavioral outcomes.

Most commercial chicken meat production around the world currently utilizes rapidly growing breeds, selectively bred over generations to grow unusually fast. These chickens grow from hatch to slaughter weight in just six weeks, the vast majority intensively reared in overcrowded sheds on factory farms devoid of environmental enrichment or natural sunlight.

As stated in the research summary report: “While this high productivity means affordable, consistent product, it has come at a cost to broiler welfare.”

Julie Janovsky, Humane Society International’s vice president of Farm Animal Programs, said: “More than 60 billion chickens are raised and slaughtered for meat around the world every year, and this study confirms that the fast growth and tremendous weight they have been bred to reach goes hand in hand with poor welfare and a life of pain. Responsible companies must work quickly to implement reform to reduce the suffering of billions of animals, moving away from these rapid-growth birds. And retailers, restaurants and consumers must also play their part by making more responsible purchasing choices, including reducing and replacing chicken altogether with plant-based proteins and meat-free chicken alternatives.”

The University of Guelph worked independently but accepted input and advice from chicken breeding companies, who provided the animals for the study and advised on their needs. However, even when tested under the carefully controlled environmental conditions specified by the breeders, the welfare of the fastest growing commercial strains was poor. Rapidly growing broiler chickens reared without carefully controlled ventilation, nutrition or temperature controls may suffer even further.

Based on the study’s results, Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.), a leading farm animal welfare certification and labeling program, will revise its standard on the welfare of chickens to account for this important new science, and Humane Society International urges other welfare assurance schemes to  do the same. As hundreds of large food and hospitality companies have pledged to address animal welfare as part of their corporate social responsibility commitments, G.A.P. certification is a good path toward meeting those promises. The updated broiler chicken requirements in the G.A.P. program will help ensure companies are meeting science-based welfare standards.

The newly released summary report disseminates the initial results, with further analysis expected by the end of the year and more in 2021. The data is expected to be published in peer-reviewed journals, making a key contribution to the scientific literature.

ENDS

Media contact: Sarah Schweig: sschweig@humanesociety.org; +1 202-754-2428