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UK slaughterhouses reject 61m fast grown chickens in three years

More than 61 million chickens were rejected for human consumption because of diseases and defects at slaughterhouses in England and Wales over three years, according to figures analysed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian.

Broilers, chickens raised for meat, were the worst affected with almost 59 million defects recorded. More than 39 million broilers arrived and were rejected at slaughter due to disease – approximately 35,000 every day.

These figures account for declared numbers only with the true number likely to be far greater. 

The findings come after an admission by fast food giant KFC that more than a third of the birds on its supplier farms in the UK and Ireland suffer from a painful inflammation known as footpad dermatitis which can prevent them from walking.

Like most of the 20 million broilers slaughtered in the UK every week, nearly all of KFC’s are fast-growing breeds that grow for barely a month before they’re killed. This is four times faster than it was in the 1950s. The push for high growth rates and maximum amounts of breast meat has exacerbated health and welfare problems for birds, including the inability to move and liver and heart failure.

The extraordinary number of chickens slaughtered and then rejected for consumption is a clear sign of how cheap this farming is and the poor quality of its produce. Considering no farms have raised issues surrounding loss of revenue despite 61 million birds being rejected raises serious concerns.

The inspection findings, compiled from Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows that between July 2016 and June 2019, 61,008,212 defects in chickens were identified by inspection staff at various points in the meat production process after arrival at slaughter.

The data revealed that more than 3 million chickens were rejected at slaughter due to liver disease or heart failure. “The main contributor is believed to be an increased oxygen demand by the fast-growing muscle. The body simply can’t keep up,” said Vicky Bond, veterinarian and director of the Humane League. 13.6 million carcasses, according to the data, were partially rejected due to contamination, machine damage, poor plucking or over-scalding.

“These figures shine a light on the very poor conditions that are the norm in Britain’s poultry sector. Most broilers, turkeys and ducks are farmed in crowded, stressful conditions that make them vulnerable to disease,” said Peter Stevenson from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) which has called for a ban on the use of fast-growing broiler breeds.

An FSA spokesperson said if rejection rates exceed certain levels they are referred to the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) or Local Authorities and Trading Standards for further investigation. The current total rate of rejection is over 55,000 chickens a day, raising questions as to how high the number has to be before a referral takes place.

US-EU trade talks

These are chickens that are being bread for slaughter in a country with, relatively speaking, one of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. And yet these standards are nowhere near high enough, according to charities such as CIWF and the RSPCA.

Such is the contempt that politicians in the UK have for animal welfare, that MPs in 2017 voted to reject the inclusion of animal sentience – the admission that animals feel emotion and pain – into the EU Withdrawal Bill.

This means that the UK, after trade talks with the US in the wake of Brexit, may well welcome meat from the US that has come from drastically lower welfare standards. US hens, for instance, have half the living space of UK birds and are dipped in chlorinated water after slaughter to kill bacteria growing on them as a result of the birds “literally sitting in each other’s waste”, according to a video launched by the RSPCA.

Take action

Even if you don’t value animal welfare highly, value your nutrition. Fast bred animals for slaughter do not contain the nutrients that your body needs. Instead, they are pumped with hormones and antibiotics that end up in your body.

We should all be eating little to no meat and dairy. This is a process. You do not have to give these things up overnight, but you should find a pathway to moderation or removal.

For more information on how the food choices you make can help fight mass extinction and climate change, click on the icons below:

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