Investigating U.S. Support For Broiler Chicken Welfare
98% of the 9 billion chickens slaughtered for meat each year in the U.S. are raised in inhumane conditions on factory farms. The Better Chicken Commitment (BCC), a set of voluntary animal welfare standards for food companies, aims to improve broiler chickens’ lives by requiring companies to meet certain animal welfare standards. For example, they must purchase meat from suppliers who meet minimum criteria for stocking density, provide suitable environmental enrichments, and use chicken breeds that show higher welfare outcomes.
In this study, researchers investigated the extent to which people in the U.S. support companies’ adoption of the BCC. They also wanted to know whether people’s attitudes about chicken cognition, and their commitment to eating meat, would impact their beliefs about adopting the BCC.
The researcher administered an online survey to a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. consumers. The survey assessed participants’ knowledge of standard chicken farming practices in the U.S., described the practices, and asked participants if they found them acceptable. It then described the BCC and asked participants if they supported nine measures related to food companies’ adoption of it. Respondents then indicated how much more they would be willing to pay for chicken meat from a company that had adopted the BCC.
Additionally, participants responded to a 14-item scale measuring their beliefs about chicken cognition. The items included statements like: “Chickens can experience basic emotions and states, such as pleasure, pain, fear, and suffering.” To measure meat commitment, the survey asked participants to respond to statements such as: “I don’t want to eat meals without meat.” Finally, the survey included questions about respondents’ food habits and demographic information.
The researcher shared their findings in two parts. The first part focused on participants’ knowledge of standard chicken farming practices and support for food companies’ adoption of the BCC. The researcher found that most participants (85%) underestimated how many chickens are slaughtered for meat, and 66% also underestimated the percentage of chickens who are raised on factory farms. However, after learning about standard chicken farming practices, 75% of respondents thought the practices were unacceptable.
After learning about the BCC, most participants (between 62-88% per measure) supported all nine measures related to food companies’ adoption of it, including that companies should be transparent about the conditions in which their chickens are raised and slaughtered (81% agreed) and that companies should regularly update the public about their progress in meeting BCC standards (83% agreed). In general, 81% of participants agreed that companies should adopt chicken welfare policies like the BCC. However, only 62% agreed that they would purchase chicken from companies that comply with the BCC if it costs more than conventionally-raised chicken meat.
The second part of the study focused on the impacts of participants’ beliefs about chicken cognition and commitment to eating meat on their support for companies’ adoption of the BCC. The researcher found that beliefs about chicken cognition had a significant, positive impact on their likelihood of supporting BCC adoption and willingness to pay for BCC-approved meat, whereas their commitment to eating meat had significant, negative impacts on their support and willingness to pay.
The researcher also found evidence that participants’ commitment to eating meat impacted their likelihood of supporting BCC adoption and willingness to pay for BCC meat both directly and indirectly through its impact on their beliefs about chicken cognition. That is, participants who had a higher commitment to meat consumption tended to believe less in chicken cognition, which in turn affected their support of the BCC and willingness to pay.
The author points out that most of the measures couldn’t be tested for reliability and validity. Furthermore, while beliefs about chicken cognition mediated the relationship between meat commitment and support for the BCC, the author did not explore whether the opposite was true in the data (in other words, whether beliefs about chicken cognition led people to have stronger meat commitments and, in turn, lower support for the BCC). Because of this, advocates using this study to inform their campaigns should consider encouraging both a reduction in meat commitment and more positive beliefs about chicken cognition.
Many of the results have implications for advocacy, including the finding that most people supported the Better Chicken Commitment and would be willing to pay more for BCC chicken meat. This indicates that advocates should focus on raising U.S. consumers’ awareness of the BCC and companies’ awareness of this strong consumer support.