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The facts

About 90% of the half a billion chickens raised for their meat each year in Australia come from intensive farming systems. These chickens live in sheds housing anywhere up to 60,000 birds without access to the outdoors. Inside these sheds each chicken has less floor space than an A4 size piece of paper. These conditions prevent the chickens from carrying out their natural behaviours such as roosting, perching and foraging. Such conditions also make the birds susceptible to a range of health problems, including:¹

      • Respiratory disorders due to poor air quality
      • Skin diseases due to poor litter quality
      • Physical injuries inflicted by other birds due to over-crowding

Selective breeding of meat chickens to encourage fast growth can result in lameness, heart failure (due to an inability of the heart to adapt to the rapid increase in body weight) as well as skeletal and metabolic disorders.² The natural life expectancy of a chicken is between 5-7 years, whereas chickens raised for their meat are typically slaughtered between 35 and 55 days after birth.

“…Conventional chickens are also known as barn raised…”


“…Contrary to popular belief chickens are not fed hormones, as this practice was banned in Australia in the 1960s. Antibiotics, however, are commonly used to prevent outbreaks of disease and to promote growth…”

What are the alternatives?

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The facts

Free range chicken meat accounts for approximately 10% of chicken produced in Australia. There is no legally binding definition for the term free range in Australia, which makes it difficult to define exactly how free range chicken is produced. There are several accreditation schemes that set their own standards for free range chickens. Accredited producers must comply with the standards in order to carry the logo or stamp of the particular scheme. Regular audits are carried out to ensure compliance.

The RSPCA, the Humane Society International (HSI) and Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia Limited (FREPA) run schemes for accrediting free range chicken farms in Australia. The standards set by each of the different accreditation bodies vary somewhat, mainly with regard to stocking densities (14-17 birds per square metre for RSPCA and FREPA, 5 birds per square metre for HSI). According to these schemes free range chickens:

      • Must have access to an outside range for a minimum of 8 hours each day once fully feathered
      • Have lower stocking densities compared with chickens on conventional farms (5-17 birds per square metre compared with 20 birds per square metre on conventional farms)
      • Are not routinely treated with antibiotics

…If a product is labelled free range or organic/biodynamic but is not accredited, there is no way of assuring that it is truly what it says…”

[image link=”http://consumewithcare.org/wp-content/themes/breeze/images/design/chicken/organic_chicken.jpg” lightbox=”false” rounded=”all” width=”730px” alt=”Organic Chicken”

The facts

Organic chicken meat accounts for less than 1% of chicken produced in Australia. Organic food is grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and with a focus on environmentally sustainable practices. Certified organic produce that carries the stamp or logo of one of the seven Australian Accredited Organic Certifiers has met the organic standards (see below) and is audited annually to ensure compliance with these standards.

Chickens raised within organic farming systems must be:

      • Able to roam and graze freely / have access to the outdoors
      • Able to perform their natural behaviours
      • Fed certified organic feeds
      • Free from growth hormones or antibiotic
      • Free from mutilations, such as beak trimming

…So, all organic and biodynamic chicken is also free range….

See following table for a comparison of the different farming systems and standards:







Access to outdoors
Stocking density — indoor (birds/m2)
Stocking density — outdoor (birds/hectare)
See below*
Not specified
Systematic use of antibiotics prohibited?
See below**
Use of growth promoters prohibited?

*The total available outdoor area is calculated on the basis of the total floor area in the shed in which the flock is housed and must be:
a. at least 1.5 times the size of the total shed floor area for new sheds and for existing sheds where the available outdoor area is not limited by the overall farm footprint or
b. at least 1 times the size of the total shed floor area for existing sheds where the available outdoor area is limited by the overall farm footprint.

**Antibiotics must only be administered under veterinary advice. Where it is considered necessary to use antibiotics for prophylactic purposes, RSPCA Australia must be notified.

***Antibiotics may be used for therapeutic purposes only.
Treated birds must not be sold as free range.


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The facts

A host of other terms are used by the chicken meat industry to describe their products, including free to roam, hormone-free, grain-fed and corn-fed. Chicken meat labeled as such (unless also labeled free range or organic) comes from conventional farms and is no better in terms of the animal welfare standards followed.

The chemical-free label refers to a difference in the processing, not the farming of chickens. It indicates that no chlorinated water is used in the processing plant, with water sanitised by exposure to UV light rather than the addition of chlorine, and carcasses are cooled by exposure to a cold air stream rather than an iced water bath.


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Highest animal welfare choices:

  • Buy certified organic/biodynamic chicken and free range chicken accredited by either Humane Choice, FREPA or RSPCA.
  • Look for the following logos:

[image link=”http://consumewithcare.org/wp-content/themes/breeze/images/design/chicken/most_ethical_choices_CHICKEN.jpg” lightbox=”false” rounded=”all” width=”730px” alt=”Most Ethical Choices”/]


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      • Many of the large and some of the smaller supermarket chains carry some certified organic and certified free range chicken
      • Specialty health food stores
      • Organic butchers and butchers specializing in free range meats
      • Farmers’ markets: see farmersmarkets.org.au to find markets in your local area
      • See our Where to Buy page for stockists and online retailers

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1. Voiceless report From Nest to Nugget: AN Expose of Australia’s Chicken Factories, 2008 From Nest To Nugget Report Online Final.pdf 2. An HSUS Report: Welfare Issues with Selective Breeding for Rapid Growth in Broiler Chickens and Turkeys Welfare Broiler.pdf


See also:

[image link=”http://consumewithcare.org/wp-content/themes/breeze/images/design/chicken/turkeys.jpg” url=”http://www.consumewithcare.org/turkeys” lightbox=”false” rounded=”all” width=”730″ alt=”Turkeys”/]

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