Whole Foods Market (WFM) has announced that it will become the first major food business in the US to support a commitment to slower-growing breeds and better living conditions for chickens by 2024.
They will do so within the 5-Step® Rating Global Animal Partnership (GAP), creator of North America’s most comprehensive farm animal welfare standards.
GAP has also committed to replacing all fast-growing breeds with healthier, slower growth breeds, and to giving all chickens natural light, more space, and enrichment as a minimum. The commitment applies to 600+ GAP rated farms and 277 million chickens.
“WFM and GAP’s pioneering commitment is nothing short of historical given the sheer number of animals’ lives that will be improved - some 277 million chickens are under GAP's care. For decades, the industry’s focus has been on producing a chicken as big, as fast, and as cheap as possible. But there have been disastrous unintended consequences for the birds - lameness, heart conditions, and immune function problems, to name a few. It’s high time we give chickens a life worth living,” said Leah Garces, US Director of Compassion in World Farming and Global Animal Partnership board member.
Conventional chickens are typically raised with ¾ of a square foot of space each, are given no enrichment or natural light, and suffer from the side effects of extremely fast growth – 65g/day on average. Modern chickens have been selectively bred for their fast, efficient growth and higher yield of breast meat. However, this has had detrimental impacts on the welfare of broiler chickens, including immune and musculoskeletal problems resulting in limitations to the bird’s ability to express natural behaviours like perching, flying, and even walking.
The commitment by WFM and GAP aims to dramatically improve chicken welfare and specifically address the many issues resulting from fast-growing breeds and the conditions they are raised in by:
- Lowering maximum stocking density: equal to or less than 6 lb/sq ft, or around 25% more space than conventional chickens
- Requiring slower-growing birds: genetic potential growth rate equal to or less than 50g per day averaged over the growth cycle, or around 23% slower growth than conventional chickens
- Improving existing enrichment provisions to include natural light and straw bales, perches, and pecking substrates
"At GAP, our goal is to improve the welfare of farm animals,” said Anne Malleau, Executive Director of Global Animal Partnership, “By addressing the fast growth, we will be getting to the root of the welfare problem facing chickens today. Implementing this transition will require significant work, but we are confident we can get there.
WFM and GAP's commitment follows major companies including Starbucks, Compass, Nestlé and Aramark calling out in recent policies the need to address welfare problems related to fast-growing breeds of chickens.
GAP’s announcement marks the first firm and specific communication on how to achieve that in the United States.
Compassion has worked with WFM and GAP for nearly a decade. In 2015, WFM was awarded our Good Egg Award with special global recognition for extending their cage-free egg policy to all international locations.