It’s a misconception that meat chickens are kept in small battery cages — that’s solely the fate of intensively reared egg-producing chickens.
Most regular meat chickens are barn-raised, although animal welfare proponents aren’t happy with: the amount of space the chickens are allowed; health problems they say are a result of selective breeding for rapid growth of the chickens; and other practices like debeaking.
Links has details of where you can go for more information on the industry and animal welfare groups' concerns.
The main group accrediting free-range poultry meat is Free Range Egg and Poultry Australia (FREPA). There are other industry accreditation bodies, for example the similarly named Free Range Egg and Poultry Association of Australia (FREPAA), but they focus mainly on eggs, and cover fewer chickens for meat production.
- FREPA’s standards go further than general government welfare requirements and include things such as clearly specifying the quality of the outside environment — it must have vegetation and be able to keep producing it, in addition to shade and shelter. FREPA told us it regularly audits its members’ farms, using auditors not otherwise involved with the poultry industry to increase independence, but there’s no government supervision of the scheme’s auditing.
- FREPAA, on the other hand, told us it audits its members using expert poultry auditors, as it feels the expertise in poultry is critical. Either way, buying accredited free-range chicken provides a greater degree of happy-chicken-certainty than buying a non-accredited product.
Corn-fed chickens aren’t free-range unless this is also specifically stated on the label. Corn-fed simply means that the chicken receives a different diet high in corn, which gives the meat a distinctive colour and flavour.
Certified organic chicken standards also encompass a free-range aspect, and Humane Choice is planning to have its endorsed free-range chicken on the market in the near future.