In Landmark Announcement, Largest Welfare Certification Addresses Genetic Health

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Farm Forward spearheads efforts to improve welfare for hundreds of millions of chickens

In yet another sign that sweeping change is afoot within the poultry industry, today the nation’s leading farmed animal welfare certification, Global Animal Partnership (GAP), announced a landmark pledge to phase out by 2024 the fastest-growing strains of chickens, which currently account for more than 99 percent of chicken meat sold in the U.S. Advocacy group Farm Forward pioneered the efforts that ultimately led to today’s historic announcement.

As the first national organization to focus on poultry genetics, Farm Forward has pushed to make the return to genetically healthy birds a central aspect of GAP’s 5-Step® standards since GAP’s inception. Last year, these efforts led to changes that effectively required producers at the highest Step to use heritage turkeys (turkeys with optimal welfare) and refrain from feed- or water-restricting breeder turkeys.

“This is the proudest I’ve ever been of GAP,” said Steve Gross, Farm Forward’s Chairman and a founding member of GAP’s Board of Directors. “In the early years of GAP, genetic requirements only appeared within the highest tiers of our program; today marks a historic moment in making genetic health a mainstay of GAP’s standards from top to bottom.”

“The message sent by today’s announcement is unequivocal,” said Ben Goldsmith, Executive Director of Farm Forward. “For too long the poultry industry has manipulated the genetics of these animals in ways that have terrible consequences for their welfare. As a result of pushing chickens and turkeys past their genetic limits, the birds experience chronic pain, diminished immune health, and debilitating cardiovascular and bone disorders throughout their entire lives. It’s simply unacceptable.”

Farm Forward’s work from within GAP is only one facet of its broader strategy to fundamentally improve poultry welfare by focusing on genetic health. Following Farm Forward’s early work with Chipotle to use heritage chicken meat in a test market, an increasing number of companies have promised a return to genetically healthier poultry. Recently, Starbucks committed to focus on eliminating “fast growing practices” in its poultry supply chain, and Nestle, the world’s largest food manufacturer, committed to address the welfare implications of fast growth as well.

“The rise in consumer and institutional interest in seeking a return to healthier poultry genetics is a massive win for animals,” said Goldsmith. “The rise of the slower-growth movement means that the future is brighter for chickens and turkeys in American agriculture than it has been since the earliest days of factory farming.”

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