broiler chickens Credit: buhanovskiy/iStock/Thinkstock.

National Chicken Council rolls out broiler welfare standards

Resource provides consumers with information about how meat birds are raised.

The National Chicken Council (NCC), the country's oldest and largest national association representing the U.S. broiler chicken industry, today rolled out a set of industry-wide standards for broiler chicken welfare: the “Chicken Guarantees.” The standards were launched as part of NCC’s Chicken Check In program, which serves as a resource for consumers to get the information they are seeking about how meat chickens are raised.

Dr. Ashley Peterson, NCC senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said, “NCC and its members remain wholly committed to advancing chicken welfare, continuous improvement and consumer choice, but consumers today are constantly being bombarded with negatives on labeling – no preservatives, no hormones, no additives, no this, never that. Through our 'Chicken Guarantees,' we want to provide the baseline principles that always hold true, no matter what chicken you eat.”

With U.S. chicken consumption at an all-time high, the "Chicken Guarantees" represent a set of consumer assurances that people have simple, clear and accurate information regarding how chickens are cared for and raised.

No matter which welfare standards a chicken company adheres to or whether the birds were raised conventionally, organic, without antibiotics or free range, for example, these principles hold true:

  • RAISED CAGE-FREE. The majority of broiler chickens in the U.S. are raised in large, climate-controlled and ventilated barns, where they're free to move about and interact with other chickens and have 24-hour access to fresh food and water.
  • FREE OF ADDED HORMONES AND STEROIDS. This is the law. The U.S. government has banned the use of hormones and steroids in poultry since the 1950s.
  • MONITORED BY LICENSED VETERINARIANS. Licensed veterinarians, who have a professional obligation to protect the chickens' health and welfare, provide comprehensive health care programs for every commercial broiler chicken flock.
  • RAISED BY FARMERS TRAINED IN ANIMAL WELFARE. Farm owners are trained in handling and caring for chickens in order to provide a safe, healthy and low-stress environment. If farmers or their employees mistreat chickens, they are subject to immediate disciplinary action, including termination and prosecution.

A recent survey found that 76% of Americans still mistakenly believe that there are added hormones or steroids present in most chicken meat, and 70% believe most chickens raised for meat are housed in cages. Further, nearly two-thirds (62%) of consumers said chicken labels and packaging are confusing.

“As chicken farmers, we understand that it is more important than ever to help define the basic standards for chicken care in a simple way for consumers to provide them with more information about their food and clarify misconceptions,” said Jenny Rhodes, a chicken farmer in Maryland who raises 500,000 broilers per year. “We’re always seeking ways to improve the lives of the birds, because without healthy birds, there would be no chicken industry. Whether it’s looking at space and housing, studying different nutrition programs, breeding for the healthiest birds or working to eradicate diseases, we’re committed to continual improvement to do what is best for the bird and, ultimately, the consumer.”

Peterson noted, “In addition to the industry’s comprehensive chicken welfare guidelines that chicken producers use and are audited against and other available welfare programs, the 'Chicken Guarantees' are a simple set of baseline welfare standards that people can expect and understand when they buy and eat any chicken. We support choices in the meat case for consumers, but the data clearly show that with so many options, consumers can become confused. We believe that by providing our consumers with facts about chicken care, their choices can become easier. No matter what chicken they choose to buy and feed their families, they can be assured that their chicken was well cared for.”

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