The RSPCA has claimed that producing meat from slower-growing chickens can significantly reduce mortality and culling and improve meat quality.
An RSPCA-commissioned study compared the health, welfare and production characteristics of standard broiler breeds used most extensively worldwide with a widely used, commercially viable slower-growing breed.
The results of the research, which was carried out independently by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), showed that up to 49% of faster-growing birds could have issues such as lameness. This compares to 16% of the slower growing birds.
The study also showed that up to 78% of the fast-growing birds were likely to have white striping (compared to 10% for the slower-growing breed) and up to 23% had a condition known as wooden breast (compared to just 1% of the slower growing breed).
Kate Parkes, chicken welfare specialist, from the RSPCA, said: “It has often been argued that intensive systems used to produce chicken meat are more sustainable than higher welfare systems. This new, independent research shows that conventional production with fast-growing breeds is potentially very wasteful with farmers facing the loss of up to nearly half of their flock due to increased mortality and culling for poor leg health. In addition, our research shows that fast-growing birds are significantly more likely to produce poorer quality meat, through conditions known as white striping and wooden breast.
“We are pleased the UK Government are looking to link farm support payments with better welfare and feel chicken is an area where farmers could be given financial support to move to using slower growing, higher welfare breeds.”