Amazon-backed group pushes for ethically raised chicken

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Fast-moving Amazon is pushing for slow-growing chickens that animal-rights groups say are more ethically raised — but they could end up costing consumers more.

The US poultry industry will boost its production of the chickens, which are said to have fewer health issues, in a nod to a powerful animal-welfare organization that’s backed by Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market.

The Global Animal Partnership unveiled a list of 11 breeds of chicken on Wednesday that meet its certification criteria. The latest list is down from 27 breeds. GAP says that top-tier companies like Chipotle and Popeyes Louisiana Chicken have signed on to its “better chicken” initiative, which they have pledged to adopt by 2026. 

GAP is betting that meat consumers will be willing to pay higher costs for products that are grown in what they say is a more ethical way — and that other companies will eventually fall into line with the animal-friendly trend. 

The organization didn’t release an estimate of how much more such chickens will cost than traditionally produced ones, but the National Chicken Council says the slow-growth chickens — which take 81 days to grow vs. 48 for conventionally produced ones — are typically three times more expensive than conventionally produced ones. A conventional fresh, whole chicken is about $1.53 a pound, based on current federal data.

Free range chickens
The National Chicken Council says slow-growth chickens — which take 81 days to grow vs. 48 for conventionally produced ones — are typically three times more expensive than conventionally produced ones.
LightRocket via Getty Images

The movement toward the new alternatives faces obstacles, including the higher cost of supermarket food that has been fueled by record levels of inflation in the United States.

Since October of last year, the price of meat, poultry, and fish have all gone up by nearly 12 percent, according to the Labor Department. The price of chicken alone has shot up 15 percent since just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year.

Not only have chickens become more expensive, but they have also become more scarce. The market is saddled with a chicken shortage caused by a surge in demand for dining in restaurants. And the supply of chickens was also interrupted by several shutdowns of meat plants due to COVID-19 outbreaks among employees.

Packages of chicken on the shelves at a grocery store
The price of chicken has shot up 15 percent since just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

As for the slow-growth chickens, animal-rights activists have long accused the factory farm industry of inhumane practices, including confining livestock to cramped cages, killing them weeks after birth and injecting hormones and other chemicals in order to boost meat yield.

GAP’s certification process entails third-party audits of farms which ensure that livestock are raised without the use of antibiotics, added hormones, or animal byproducts.

But producers of most chickens available in supermarkets say that it requires more food and water to feed slow-growing birds, which they say makes the process cost-prohibitive. The list of breeds released by GAP on Wednesday make up less than 10 percent of the chickens currently available in the marketplace.

Whole Foods Market logo on a cardboard box in an aisle inside the grocery store
The Global Animal Partnership is backed by Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market.
Getty Images

Anne Malleau, the executive director of GAP, told Bloomberg that poultry producers will have to significantly scale up slow-growing chicken operations in order to satisfy consumer demand for welfare certification foods.

“It’s a balancing act between what people want and what’s available,” Malleau told Bloomberg. “The way this initiative will be successful is if people start to transition as soon as they can.”

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