Fair or fowl?

Think tank: Social Market Foundation

Author(s): Jake Shepherd; Khazna Chami; Aveek Bhattacharya

May 25, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Social Market Foundation looks at the state and future of farmed animal welfare in the UK.

This briefing by the Social Market Foundation, attempts to identify a working definition and practical measure of animal welfare to understand where we are as a society, and where we might be headed. It is the first of three reports investigating the likelihood and potential for alternative proteins to reducing animal suffering. While checklists and assurance schemes for farm animal welfare exist, they do not provide adequate data to develop a national picture. Nevertheless, it is clear that welfare issues among farmed animals is overwhelmingly about chicken: chickens make up 77% of the UK’s factory farmed animals and 95% of all broiler chickens are factory farmed. Things are not getting any better. Chicken production is up by a quarter in the last decade. Though more broiler chickens are reared to higher welfare standards, just over 1% are covered by the RSPCA assured scheme. If things continue on the same track, the situation could get a lot worse. The farm animal population grew by 14% in the last decade, and broiler chickens by a quarter – if that is repeated in the next decade, it would mean at least another 28 million factory farmed animals in the UK. Where to go from here? If we care about animal welfare, we should collect better data: DEFRA should aim to produce, based on representative samples of farms, estimates of the welfare status of each farmed animal in the UK. Animal welfare improvement is about chickens first and foremost – which could create tensions with environmental meat reduction goals. Alternative proteins could play a role in meeting environmental and animal welfare aims.