By Amit, Founder at Soul Burger

The Question

A question we get asked by some customers is, “Why don’t you guys also serve ethical meat, as well as plant-based meats? Why not have plant-based chicken served alongside free range chicken? They’re both more ethical options than factory farming, right?”

Well..sort of..but no.

We actually arrived into the vegan scene after initially being purveyors of “ethical meat” for a short time time – and after years of confliction and moral reconciliation, we reasoned there is simply no way to do this in an “ethical” way.

I reasoned the best thing we could do, as a restaurant group, was to celebrate plant-based food and encourage the masses to realise we really don’t need meat (or dairy/eggs) to eat amazing, satisfying, comfort food.

So let’s tak about a sub-industry in the “ethical meat” industry, the free-range chicken one, and why we can’t support this in good conscience.

Let’s Talk About Free Range Chickens

Here’s one way to think about it: If factory farming chickens is 10/10 on a scale of cruelty, our commercial free range industry is 8.5/10. Don’t get us wrong, that 1.5/10 improvement matters a lot for the baby birds in the system, and it’s better than the status quo, but not by much. The stark reality is the commercial “free range” broiler chicken industry has cruelty baked into the business model.

Point 1: In the commercial chicken industry, Free Range isn’t really free range

Firstly, there is a significant proportion of “free range” that is straight up marketing spin. As in it’s total BS and identical to factory farmed chicken. The better free range chicken suppliers (restaurants and supermarkets alike) will use FREPA (Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia), which is the accreditation body for free range chicken.

AND FREPA standards still allow for:

1. 23 hours of continuous light in their sheds for <7 days old birds to speed up their growth (Same as factory farms).
2. An indoor stocking density of *15* chickens per square metre (Factory farms allow for 20)
3. No requirement of environmental enrichments such as perching or pecking objects (Same as factory farms).

People in the industry may retort “But the birds have *access* to the outdoors they just don’t care and would rather sit crammed in sheds!”. This isn’t entirely false – and it’s because the birds have been BRED that way (more to this in the next point). They’ve been bred to be so overweight, so out of proportion with gigantic breasts for consumption, that they simple don’t want to move. Broiler chickens are now so “unnatural”, that the RSPCA doesn’t even require them to have access to outdoor areas as so many are not even interested anymore. They have had their natural desire to roam, literally, “bred” out of them.

So how is this any reasonable persons definition of free range? Cramming FIFTEEN hefty birds, who’ve been bred in a way that they have little desire to move, in ONE square metre (and tens of thousands in shed) and putting them under 23 hours of continous light per day?

It’s not. And it’s why the industry does everything it can to avoid scrutiny from the public at large. They know they can’t meet genuine “free range” standards (as most people expect) because they simply wouldn’t be able to provide the millions of chickens needed to meet customer demand.

So instead, they incrementally change things, slap a free-range sticker, and hope to soothe the customer conscience in the meantime.

Point 2: The “genetic design” of the modern broiler chicken, through selective breeding, has resulted in unimaginable cruelty to the bird.

The modern broiler chicken is a human designed, selectively bred, Frankenstein bird. And I write this with nothing but sheer empathy for these poor baby birds who’ve been hideously “designed” for maximum efficiency and profit. The modern broiler bird has been selectively bred since the 1950s to grow so fast that researchers from the University of Arkansan declared if a human newborn baby born at 3kg grew at the same rate of the modern broiler chicken it would weigh 300KG after 2 months!!

The chicken industry will often advertise “growth hormone-free” as a marketing term – the reality is, hormones aren’t needed anymore because the genetic selection in breeding has been so effective in explosive tissue growth.

The outcome for these baby chickens is being born with a body that was never designed to age beyond 8 weeks. Remember, wild chickens could initially live over 10 years.

Why is this one of the worst iterations of “capitalism at all costs” ever known?

Because these poor baby birds, at just 6 weeks of age, have breasts so large (due to the sheer demand for constant chicken breast) their legs often break being unable to take the weight. A 2008 study found that 33% of all broiler chickens had movement impairments, with 3.3% declared lame altogether. 

Meaning, out of an industrial shed of 50000 chickens, about 1650 will literally not be able to move, live in their own faeces, suffer terribly from lameness and cardio-respiratory problems, and eventually die where they are. In fact it is so bad, that many farmers consider it a welfare obligation to kill these “lame” birds prematurely to avoid suffering.

Due to the never-ending quest for efficiency, chicken breast cuts and cheaper chicken, our society has created a bird which perpetually suffers, has very little desire to move, suffers from numerous health conditions and is destined to live for 6-8 weeks. This has nothing to do with Old Macdonald and his small scale farm. This is not natural in any sense of the word.

Just look at the change the in modern chicken compared to previous years below…

Imagine breeding a dog that is so overweight by 6 weeks of age, it has no real desire to go for walks or be active. and A dog that is so genetically out of proportion it dies by 16 weeks of age of a cardiac arrest. We’d rightly call this animal abuse and disallow the breeding of such a dog to occur.

Point 3: They will all end up in slaughter houses

So far we’ve talked about the problem with commercial free range farming hardly being free range at all (even by FREPA standards), and the selective breeding of chickens resulting in incredibly unhealthy birds. Now to the next moral redzone and this part is unavoidable.

Even with the most ethical raising of animals, they will inevitable end up being killed and eaten. For some, myself included, it’s a moral dead-end. How do you justify taking a birds life, who doesn’t want to die, for a burger (when you can eat without doing this)?

This isn’t even considering the immense structural problems with centralised, commercial slaughterhouses where even the most small-scale pasture-raised chickens (and every other animal that’s to be eaten) will go.

I won’t link footage to this because it’s so distressing – but here is a quote from an Animals Australia article: “High throughput’ slaughterhouses operate on strict time schedules and, as investigations have revealed, there is often little opportunity — or incentive — to avoid individual animal suffering.Terrified animals may swing their heads out of the way of the electrified-bath, the mechanical blade and ‘back up’ slaughterman. Others don’t fully ‘bleed out’ in the allotted time. These birds — who aren’t dead by the time the conveyor belt they’re shackled to reaches the scalding tanks — will be dragged alive into boiling water, as exposed in a shocking investigation by photographer Tamara Kenneally and revealed on the ABC.

So what is an ethical omnivore to do?

So here are our tips for aspiring ethical omniovores and the best things they can do

  1. Eat plant-based foods in any commercial setting – it is simply impossible to eat “ethical meat” from any restaurant group (unless they’re selling $25-30 burgers/burritos and they regularly run out of stock due to shortages from their farmers).
  2. Reduce the meat you eat dramatically. You should effectively be a plant-based eater when you eat out to avoid commercial cruelty, and if you do eat meat at home, ensure the meat is accredited by meaningful groups and suppliers like Feather and Bone or those with Humane Choice Accreditation. Be prepared to pay much more for the meat you eat and, consequentially, eat less meat. Consider being a weekday vegan, or leave meat for special occasions only. Simple rules go a long way to reducing the harm in your diet. It doesn’t need to be an all or nothing approach.
  3.  Lastly, you need to reconcile slaughterhouses with your conscience. Even if you are confident of the most ethical farming practices, you need to accept that the animal will ultimately be sent to a metal factory of death (a slaughterhouse). The animal is not willingly giving you their life as a bountiful sacrifice, they want to live like any other animal. Make of this what you will.

If you do follow the rules above though, you are doing a dramatically better thing than most! And, in my opinion, your efforts should be celebrated! Thinking of this another way, 2-3 people cutting back significantly on animal products may the same impact on demand as 1 person going entirely vegan!

On our front, we’ve committed to now and forever serving plant-based food exclusively (we’re not ruling out cultivated meat one day though!) and planting plant-based seeds in thousands of peoples’ minds every week

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