Frequently Asked Questions
Answers to common questions about the BCC
Why are there different versions of the policy?
In practice, both versions of the policy are very similar. They require the same minimum standards and address the most pressing animal welfare concerns associated with chicken production at scale.
The primary difference is that the two versions offer multiple options for meeting auditing standards. While fulfilling Version 1 of the Better Chicken Commitment allows a business to receive certification from Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) and thus achieve clear consumer-friendly labeling, it also requires using G.A.P.-affiliated auditors. To allow for more flexibility, Version 2 gives the option to choose an auditor while keeping the crucial elements improving chicken welfare.
How many companies have already signed on to the policy?
In the United States and Canada, over 200 leading brands have published policies meeting or exceeding Better Chicken Commitment standards. Click here to browse a selection of these policies.
This movement is expanding internationally. The Better Chicken Commitment’s sister policy, the European Chicken Commitment, takes into account regional directives and EU legislation and now has over 300 food business signatories. Click here to view a list of welfare commitments around the world.
Who runs the Better Chicken Commitment, and where did it come from?
No individual organization is in charge of the Better Chicken Commitment. In 2016, animal welfare scientists from leading nonprofit organizations reached a unanimous consensus on broiler production’s most pressing evidence-based welfare concerns. The result of that agreement was a set of standards that will meaningfully improve the welfare of chickens by establishing a baseline for their treatment.
Isn’t it the role of the USDA to regulate broiler welfare?
No. The USDA oversees the food safety aspects of poultry processing but does not regulate the welfare of animals at the farm level. Additionally, poultry are specifically excluded from the Animal Welfare Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
Without the presence of enforcement from regulators, the relative welfare and humane treatment of animals is currently entirely dependent upon the commitments and actions of the private sector.
How do customers feel about the Better Chicken Commitment?
Consumers care deeply about animal welfare. In fact, they care as much as they do about other leading issues, including children’s education and hunger, according to a survey from Ketchum Global Research & Analytics.
A survey from the National Chicken Council found that eighty-nine percent of consumers want more information about the chicken they buy, and about three-quarters of respondents reported being concerned about how chickens are raised for meat.
Research from the journal Food Ethics found that, in a survey of 1,000 American grocery shoppers, 83% of respondents reported they would be likely to switch to a brand that promised that products came from animals raised in high-welfare farm conditions.
Regarding slaughter alone, Rethink Priorities found that 63% of Americans would pay extra for meat processed through controlled atmosphere stunning rather than shackling the birds while fully conscious—a requirement missing in other welfare certifications.
How do we join the Better Chicken Commitment?
Companies wishing to adopt the Better Chicken Commitment and inform consumers of their commitment to animal welfare will publicly announce that they currently sell, or plan to sell, exclusively chicken meeting the Better Chicken Commitment standards or better.
This often takes the form of a statement on their website or press release, accompanied by a roadmap describing expected timelines for implementation. Many larger companies can also expect to receive media exposure.
Suppliers interested in being featured on the website are encouraged to contact us with more information and a link to your BCC statement, or with any additional questions.
We are a retailer sourcing from a supplier listed on your website. Do we still need to adopt the Better Chicken Commitment?
Yes. Adopting the Better Chicken Commitment lets consumers, partners, and the media know that your company is committed to corporate social responsibility and serving quality food. This message is crucial and may not be adequately conveyed through your relationship with a supplier alone, because some suppliers do not exclusively raise BCC-compliant chicken.
It is essential that companies interested in sourcing BCC-compliant products communicate their policy requirements to chicken suppliers and create a step-by-step plan for making any necessary supply chain adjustments.
Does my entire supply need to meet the Better Chicken Commitment standards before I can make a commitment?
No. The Better Chicken Commitment is not a certification or verification program, but instead a public commitment to improving animal welfare. Therefore, we encourage companies to sign on today regardless of the specific circumstances of their current supply chain.
To transition successfully, we also encourage businesses to make a plan with their supplier for how they’ll meet their animal welfare goals and on what timeline. Updating your public commitment with incremental, annual benchmarks for each standard of the Better Chicken Commitment, sometimes referred to as a “roadmap” or “glide path,” is strongly encouraged and can adapt to your current needs and goals.
We’ve already adopted another set of policies—should we still sign on to the Better Chicken Commitment?
Yes. Many popular welfare schemes have gaps in coverage on the issues that most impact animal welfare and matter to consumers. Click here to see a full comparison of the Better Chicken Commitment versus other leading welfare programs.
Adopting the Better Chicken Commitment demonstrates a commitment to the most important standards required for chicken welfare, including breed, housing environment, and slaughter. This commitment enables companies to meet customer expectations regarding product quality and the more humane treatment of animals.
I would like to partner with the Better Chicken Commitment to offer my product or service.
The Better Chicken Commitment is a set of standards independently adopted by various companies, not an independent organization or product. As such, the Better Chicken Commitment does not establish official partnerships but welcomes connecting with like-minded individuals and companies that fulfill the baseline requirements of the BCC. To see if your product meets the specifications of the BCC, contact us.
We can offer information and coordination for parties interested in promoting animal welfare. If you are:
- A chicken producer who would like to be featured on the Better Chicken Commitment website
- An auditing body that can offer services to conduct third-party auditing for Better Chicken Commitment standards
- A food business executive interested in learning more about the Better Chicken Commitment
- Interested in connecting with NGOs who can assist with the formulation and implementation of welfare commitments
- Otherwise curious about the Better Chicken Commitment
How do scientists measure animal welfare?
Scientists use a variety of means to determine the well-being of animals. Often, this includes extrapolating from brain activity, behavioral indicators, overall health, and plausible assumptions given commonalities among many species. This may include observing the tendency for animals to avoid pain or show distress, as well as the capacity for animals to express natural behaviors as they would in the wild under positive circumstances.
Currently, chickens in large-scale production systems face major health issues, express aversive reactions to common practices, and have severely limited abilities to perform their natural behaviors.
With changes to genetics and husbandry, producers can greatly alleviate the suffering of broiler chickens in commercial production. The most pressing changes needed are included in the Better Chicken Commitment. They include a shift to alternative breeds with more robust genetics, more space (via reduced stocking densities), better lighting conditions, enriched environments, better litter management, and a transition from unreliable live-shackle slaughter to controlled atmosphere stunning systems.
Does the Better Chicken Commitment focus on inputs or outputs?
To objectively assess an animal’s welfare, scientists examine both input-based and outcome-based measures.
The conditions that animals live in are referred to as “inputs” (housing, feed, lighting conditions, husbandry), and the observed welfare of the animal is understood as “outputs” (rates of injury and disease, ability to perform natural behaviors). These two are often used in tandem—when it comes to broiler chickens, improving inputs changes the lives of an entire flock, while monitoring outputs can be used to ensure that these changes are effective at improving the welfare of individual birds.
In the broiler chicken industry, where animal suffering is a chronic issue, animal welfare must be protected by ensuring improvements in the inputs that offer chickens the opportunity to experience “a life worth living.” A list of relevant outputs can then be used to ensure that these inputs elicit a positive welfare state.
When it comes to the Better Chicken Commitment, a select few input-based criteria were chosen from a wide range of options, based on key animal welfare issues and practical changes that would significantly improve welfare outputs. In short, this policy is informed by robust scientific evidence to identify the strategies that improve chickens’ lives in the most feasible and significant ways.
Is this different from a cage-free policy?
While the elimination of battery cages is crucial to reducing the suffering of egg-laying hens, broiler chickens raised for meat in the United States are almost never raised in cages.
While the Better Chicken Commitment does prohibit the use of broiler cages, it emphasizes the most crucial welfare issues for broiler chickens, including breed, stocking density, lighting, litter, enrichments, and slaughter.
I thought all birds were stunned before killing. Why is controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS) specified?
There are no federal requirements mandating that birds are stunned before slaughter.
While water bath stunning may immobilize birds, research indicates that it is ineffective at consistently inducing an unconscious state. The electrical currents commonly used for slaughter in North America are adjusted to a level that leaves many chickens immobilized but fully conscious when killed. Birds that aren’t stunned and lift their heads to avoid the neck blade face the prospect of being boiled alive, a phenomenon known as “red birds”—affecting hundreds of thousands of birds each year in the U.S.
However, multi-step CAS ensures that all birds are rendered unconscious at the point of slaughter, protecting birds, workers, and product quality.
How does the Better Chicken Commitment impact product quality?
While chickens raised under conventional industry standards are optimized for growth speed and weight, they often produce lower-quality chicken products than their slower-growing and more well-treated counterparts.
For example, BCC-compliant breeds often experience fewer myopathies, including wooden breast and white striping. Additionally, the use of multi-step controlled atmosphere stunning can prevent trauma to the body of the chickens and avoid the phenomenon of “blood splashing,” or bruising of the chicken’s muscle and broken bones, significantly reducing the quality of the product. Many BCC-compliant breeds also have lower mortality rates, higher leg weights, and require less litter which may lead to reduced ammonia burns.
These improvements aren’t lost on customers, either—research suggests that customers rightfully associate higher animal welfare standards with a significant improvement in product quality.
Better Chicken Commitment Components
Why does the Better Chicken Commitment include stocking density requirements?
Stocking density is a measure of the maximum density of birds in any space. To account for differences in body size, the Better Chicken Commitment’s requirement is 6.0 lbs./sq. foot, which translates to around 1 square foot per bird, depending on the stage of life.
Studies show that farms with high stocking densities harm birds by reducing freedom of movement, causing chronic stress and increased manure build-up, which worsens the litter and air quality in the shed. Chickens in overcrowded environments also lack the space to perform natural behaviors important to their welfare, including play and wing stretching. When the birds reach their final body weights just before slaughter, they often lack the space to even move to the feeders or drinkers without stepping on and scratching other birds.
Why does the Better Chicken Commitment require the use of certain breeds and not others?
In recent decades, certain breeds of chicken have been selected so severely for growth and weight that their overall welfare has decreased significantly. The Better Chicken Commitment prevents the use of these inhumane breeds and instead allows for a wide range of breeds shown to have improved welfare outcomes based on extensive independent scientific research.
Unnaturally fast-growing breeds are often physically incapable of natural behaviors, including using provided enrichments like perches or having the mobility to utilize extra space. At an even more basic level, some grow too heavy to move and reach the water and feeding lines and starve to death. Healthier breeds are critical to maximizing the effectiveness of other Better Chicken Commitment components. In the long term, the Better Chicken Commitment is a holistic policy that yields optimal results when all of the components have been met.
Why does the Better Chicken Commitment require both brighter lighting and sustained darkness?
BCC-compliant suppliers provide chickens with eight continuous hours of 50 lux lighting—about 1/20th the brightness of a typical overcast day. This might not sound like a lot, but it’s far more than the 5–10 lux they are commonly afforded on standard industry farms.
Beyond minimum lighting requirements, ample hours of continuous darkness are also crucial. Broiler sheds in the U.S. often provide chickens with only short periods of darkness to prevent natural circadian behaviors. Depriving birds of proper sleep and normal activity patterns has significant physiological and physical ramifications for their overall welfare.
Chickens that gain weight without adequate exercise are more likely to become injured. At the same time, sleep deprivation can compound the effects of chronic stress.
What are environmental enrichments, and why are they important?
In their natural surroundings, chickens peck and scratch the ground in search of food, keep their feathers in good condition by dust bathing, and roost on perches or trees to feel safe from predation. When chickens are crammed into barren sheds with tens of thousands of other birds, it is extremely difficult for them to exhibit these natural tendencies.
Moreover, without the opportunity to perform these natural behaviors, lack of exercise makes chickens more prone to injury and disease.
That’s why putting perches, platforms, straw bales, pecking substrates, and other environmental enrichments on a farm can significantly improve the health and well-being of the entire flock.
Why does the Better Chicken Commitment include litter requirements?
The ammonia from chicken waste in litter burns the skin and feet of birds, causing pain. Ammonia also plays a significant role in degrading the overall meat quality. Using friable, absorbant litter of adequate depth and replacing litter often reduces the likelihood of ammonia burns.
What are the benefits of controlled atmosphere stunning?
Chickens in the U.S. are typically slaughtered in an electrical water-bath system. Birds are hung upside down by their legs in metal shackles on a moving processing line while fully conscious. This is done by workers who often struggle to keep up with line speeds of up to 175 birds per minute. Their heads then pass through an electrical water bath designed to stun them before an automated blade cuts their throats.
Water-bath stunning was designed to speed up the process of slaughter, but the system causes several welfare issues. The inversion of the chickens into shackles is stressful and painful, as the birds have no diaphragm, so being hung upside down produces a feeling of intense pressure on their lungs. Chickens also sometimes exhibit wing flapping at inversion, leading to dislocations and bone breakages. The metal shackles that birds hang from often do not account for leg diameter variation, leading operators to force larger birds with thick legs into narrow shackles, or to improperly restrain smaller birds.
Chickens may also experience painful pre-stun electric shocks if their wing tips enter the bath before their heads. Because this is an unnatural position for birds to be in, they often try to turn upright, leading to the possibility of them not being stunned effectively. Even when their heads do enter the water bath, if the current and frequency do not meet the required parameters to ensure unconsciousness, the stun may be ineffective and leave the birds conscious and alert to experience the extreme pain of their necks being cut open.
Slaughter conditions are drastically improved by multi-step controlled atmosphere stunning (CAS), which involves the irreversible stunning of birds before slaughter using gas instead of electricity. CAS eliminates the need for handling, shackling, and inversion of conscious chickens by keeping them in crates through the process.
Why does the Better Chicken Commitment require third-party auditing and annual progress reporting?
With third-party auditing and progress reporting, businesses can ensure that their suppliers are adequately meeting the standards of the Better Chicken Commitment and maintaining the welfare of the chickens they source—if such audits reveal any issues in compliance, it allows the company to address them internally, assuring what the company is telling its consumers is accurate. In other words, these requirements facilitate risk reduction.
Beyond that, this requirement also keeps the market fair; if companies weren’t audited, they would be faced with unfair competition from competitors incentivized to make similar welfare claims without following through. The auditing requirement allows customers to feel confident that the Better Chicken Commitment standards are being followed and chicken welfare has been improved.
Adopting the BCC
Does this policy cost anything to sign on?
No. There are zero fees associated with adopting the Better Chicken Commitment.
Won’t it cost more to purchase higher-welfare chicken?
Most businesses can expect to see a short-term increase in the costs of poultry sourcing. However, many also sign the commitment to secure long-term value for their company by meeting customer expectations and avoiding future regulatory risk.
Consumers are increasingly willing to adjust their spending habits to patronize businesses with a demonstrated commitment to responsible sourcing and more humane practices. Making the Better Chicken Commitment is a promising way for growth-minded companies to tap into the expanding market of welfare-informed consumers.
Given these concerns, many businesses may feel that adopting the Better Chicken Commitment is not only the right thing to do but is also financially prudential in the long term.
How does the Better Chicken Commitment impact consumer choice?
At its core, the Better Chicken Commitment is about increasing consumer choice. It ensures that businesses provide the more humane products that consumers demand, and that buyers know which brands they can trust.
Some companies still worry that the Better Chicken Commitment will reduce their option to sell the lowest-priced meat products. However, the affordability of BCC-compliant chicken will improve with scale. Over 200 recognized brands in the U.S. selling products at a variety of price points (along with another 300+ overseas) have already made the Better Chicken Commitment, and as suppliers change to meet this demand, prices will continue to improve.
The Better Chicken Commitment allows companies to cater to their markets more effectively by meeting customer demand for affordable and more humane products.
How does this impact companies that have franchisees?
Many highly franchised companies, including Burger King, Subway, Starbucks, and White Castle, have already produced company-wide Better Chicken Commitment policies. While these businesses give significant independence to their regional operations, brand standards must be adhered to—especially regarding animal welfare commitments and corporate social responsibility goals.