Whole Foods is making news. It will become the first major food business in the country to support a commitment to slower-growing breeds and better living conditions for chickens by 2024. But is this real?

Here is the full story from Compassion in World Farming. The point of the story is:

For decades, the (chicken) 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.

The Truth of the Matter

Chicken Health Unrelated to Growth Rates

The big news today is that Whole Foods is switching from fast-growing breeds to slower-growing breeds of chickens to improve their health. The claim behind this is that fast-growing breeds grow too quickly and thus develop musculoskeletal problems, heart conditions, and immune function problems.

There is no question that raising chickens in an environment that is not abusive is extremely important. Having access to the outdoors (weather permitting), room to move around, clean food and water, is basic. But what livestock are fed makes a huge difference in their health and well-being.

Our turkeys and chickens are bred to grow. But our specially-formulated feed is good for the birds and, as a result, they are very healthy. They are more active and do not have immune issues or heart conditions. Some of our chickens grow faster than others and the fastest growing birds are not less healthy. That's because they are fed a healthy diet which also makes them a healthier chicken for us to eat.

The same is true with other livestock. Cattlemen and have been selecting for better growth rates (feed conversion) for centuries. Our cattle are selected for growth. If they were put in a feedlot, they would quickly develop all of the symptoms that come from eating grain-based foods. But when they are raised on grasslands they do not have those issues, even if they grow fast.

Soon the myths will prevail as the public is encouraged to eat slow-growing chickens. Then we'll be getting questions such as: "Are your chickens slow growers?" And when we tell these questioners the truth about nutrition, growth, and health our answer will be out of step with what they've heard in the media. The beat goes on!

Ted and Linda Slanker

Posted: March 18, 2016