By: Nancy Roulston, senior director of corporate policy & animal scientist, ASPCA Farm Animal Welfare
Did you know that over nine billion chickens are raised for food each year in the United States? While the vast majority of these chickens have been genetically selected for rapid and disproportionate growth, leading to physical problems brought on by genetic selection for hyper-production, Cooks Venture provides a much-needed alternative by raising a higher-welfare chicken breed called the Pioneer. These chickens are bred to have better lives, and they’re given access to a biodiverse pasture where they can engage in the basic natural behaviors instinctive to their species. In short, their chickens can truly be chickens.
Why does this matter?
Domesticated chickens descended from a tropical bird called red jungle fowl and retain many genes from their ancestors. If given the opportunity, domesticated chickens would spend the majority of their days foraging as well as following other innate natural behaviors like preening, dust-bathing, and perching. Unfortunately, conventionally raised birds who are selected for their rapid growth genetics, like the current Cornish Cross breed, are limited in their ability to be active because they’re unable to take more than a few steps before needing to rest. This results in these birds being unable to physically use enrichments that they’d otherwise seek out, like perches.
In contrast, Cooks Ventures’ Pioneer birds are healthier and more robust with the mobility and strength to actually engage in important natural behaviors. They are provided ample opportunity to forage in a way that encourages their natural curiosity, which supports their physical and mental well-being. All of these important animal welfare practices are independently verified by Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) where Cooks Venture has earned the G.A.P. Step 4 pasture-raised certification. The Pioneer breed has also been independently evaluated and approved by G.A.P. as part of its Better Chicken Project. By virtue of this meaningful animal welfare certification, shoppers can find Cooks Venture chicken listed on the ASPCA®’s Shop With Your Heart® Grocery List.
Investments in farm animal welfare, such as Cooks Venture’s use of better breeds and living environments, demonstrate a genuine commitment to a better future for both animals and the planet, and they make good business sense, too. Consumers are hungry for higher-welfare products; a new national survey shows that a whopping 91 percent of Americans believe that companies should prioritize both the environment and the humane treatment of farm animals as part of their corporate sustainability programs. Food retailers, like supermarkets, have the responsibility and opportunity to embed farm animal welfare into their sourcing strategies as well. One critical pathway for retailers to do their part is to publish farm animal welfare policies and report progress while stocking higher-welfare products.
For more information on how the ASPCA advocates for farm animals and a better food system that supports farmers, food businesses, consumers, and lawmakers, please click here.