Global Animal Partnership (GAP), creator of North America’s most comprehensive farm animal welfare standards, announced today its intention over the next eight years to replace 100 percent of fast-growing chicken breeds with slower-growing breeds for all levels of its 5-Step® Rating Program.
“At GAP, our goal is to improve the welfare of farm animals,” said Anne Malleau, executive director for GAP. “By addressing 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. “
Currently, fast-growing chicken breeds represent 98 percent of all commercially available chicken meat in North America. Modern chickens have been genetically selected 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 behaviors like perching, flying, and even walking. GAP’s plan will dramatically improve chicken welfare and specifically address the many issues resulting from fast-growing breeds by:
- Lowering maximum stocking density: equal to or less than 6 lbs/sq. ft. (roughly 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 (roughly 23% slower growth than conventional chickens)
- Improving existing enrichment provisions to include natural light, straw bales, perches, and pecking substrates (typically not provided in conventional chicken production)
More than 600 chicken farms currently use the GAP standard, affecting the lives of 277 million chickens annually and making it the most significant higher welfare farm animal standard in the country. It is the standard used by Whole Foods Market, which has committed to implementing the new chicken standard and moving away from fast-growth breeds of chicken by 2024. “Whole Foods Market’s Quality Standards for meat have been guiding us in providing high quality meat to our customers for years,” said Theo Weening, global meat buyer for Whole Foods Market. “Since 2011, we have used Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating to provide our customers with additional standards around animal welfare for the meat they buy which affects freshness, quality, and flavor.”
“GAP will continue to be a multi-stakeholder process,” said Malleau. “GAP chicken farmers have pioneered animal welfare in North America, and we’re excited to continue that journey with them on this new ground-breaking project. “
Malleau continued: “GAP has reviewed scientific literature and existing genetics across the world in making this decision, and is confident that this new direction will bring benefit to birds, producers, consumers, and food purveyors alike.
GAP Step 5+ standards for poultry will require optimal-welfare genetics.