The Shocking Number of Chickens Who Die Before Reaching the Kill Blade

Millions of chickens raised for meat die each year before ever reaching the slaughterhouse. In fact, figures obtained between 2016 and 2017 by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that 1.35 million chickens were found to have died during transport to the slaughterhouse or while awaiting slaughter. Many of these deaths are caused by the harsh living conditions and unnatural growth rate that puts immense pressure on the bodies of these sensitive animals.

UNNATURAL GROWTH: The average chicken today has been selectively bred to grow 300% faster than chickens raised for meat in 1960. According to researchers at the University of Arkansas, these chickens grow at a speed equivalent to a two-month-old human baby weighing 660 pounds! Being bred to put on an abnormal amount of weight in a very short time leads to many birds spending most of their miserable lives lying down in their own feces, sometimes dying from infection or not being able to reach their food and water. As high as 90% of chickens raised for meat are affected by a muscle tissue abnormality, such as “spaghetti meat,” caused by rapid growth. This unnatural growth is a huge strain on the birds legs, heart, and other organs.

HARSH LIVING CONDITIONS: As if being bred to become obese while still a baby bird isn’t hard enough, chickens raised on modern farms can be deprived of their most basic needs. Many chickens will never step foot outside, and since they are forced to live indoors, the majority of birds are exposed to artificial lighting rather than natural daylight. So in order to stimulate feed intake (i.e. accelerate chicken growth) and maximize profits, modern chicken farms commonly practice something referred to as light manipulation, keeping the birds under near-continuous dim lighting. The first time they will feel the sunlight will be as they are loaded onto the transport truck. Because the birds are too heavy to lift themselves off of the ammonia and feces-laden ground, the contaminated soil burns their bellies and causes painful boils. These filthy conditions are a breeding ground for parasites and disease. Mortality resulting from heat stress is also a problem, especially during the summer months, and is exacerbated by increased stocking density and faster growth rates.

Image taken at Red Tractor-certified Saltbox Farm who supplies to McDonald’s

SUDDEN DEATH SYNDROME: Chickens can appear healthy but then can suddenly die rapidly with a short period of wing beating and leg movement, during which they frequently flip onto their backs. This is called “sudden death syndrome” and the exact cause is unclear, but “it is thought to be a metabolic disease related to carbohydrate metabolism, lactic acidosis, loss of cell membrane integrity, and intracellular electrolyte imbalance.” It has also been linked to irregular heartbeats, most likely a result of how they are bred and raised.

DEATH DURING TRANSPORT: If chickens stay alive long enough to make it to their “market weight,” there is still a chance they could die on the way to the slaughterhouse. During transport, 3,000+ birds are forced into cages and loaded onto trucks and left for several hours without food or water, often also subjected to severe weather. Because their bodies are already strained, the extreme stress and inhumane conditions causes many to suffer and die. Causes of death during transport include heart failure, heat stress, freezing, and injuries due to mishandling. Farmers consider these deaths as a part of doing business.

WHAT CAN BE DONE: The incidence of sudden death syndrome and other pre-slaughter deaths can be minimized by slowing the growth rate of chickens used for meat and improving living conditions, something many companies are starting to implement in their animal welfare policies. Unfortunately, one of the most notable brands, McDonald’s, refuses to act on this important issue. Help us take action for chickens by signing our petition, urging McDonald’s to eliminate some of the worst abuses in their supply chain.

The best way to prevent animals from having to suffer this fate is to remove them from your diet. Check out some of our favorite plant-based chicken options at and start changing the world today!