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The European Chicken Commitment and KFC

Signatories to the NGO-backed European Chicken Commitment (ECC) must move from standard intensive indoor production systems for rearing meat chickens, to more humane, extensive indoor systems by the 1st of January 2026.

2 March 2020, at 1:53pm

The Commitment has attracted widespread attention from broiler producers, and several major brands have already signed up - including KFC, Nestle, M&S and Unilever.. How will the Commitment improve the lives and deaths of chickens reared for meat? What are the practical implications of delivering the required standards, within the established time-frame? In this programme ffinlo Costain talks to Jenny Packwood, director of responsibility and reputation for KFC UK & Ireland, Annie Rayner and Kelly Watson, experts in broiler systems and behaviour, working at FAI Farms.

The ECC has attracted widespread attention from broiler producers and was developed by animal welfare organisations across Europe.

Six principle asks

  1. Comply with all EU animal welfare laws and regulations, regardless of the country of production.
  2. Implement a maximum stocking density of 30kg/m2 or less. Thinning is discouraged and if practiced must be limited to one thin per flock.
  3. Adopt breeds that demonstrate higher welfare outcomes: either the following breeds, Hubbard Norfolk Black, JA757, 787, 957, or 987, Rambler Ranger, Ranger Classic, and Ranger Gold, or others that meet the criteria of the RSPCA Broiler Breed Welfare Assessment Protocol.
  4. Meet improved environmental standards including:
    1. At least 50 lux of light, including natural light.
    2. At least two metres of usable perch space, and two pecking substrates, per 1,000 birds.
    3. On air quality, the maximum requirements of Annex 2.3 of the EU broiler directive, regardless of stocking density.
    4. No cages or multi-tier systems.
  5. Adopt controlled atmospheric stunning using inert gas or multi-phase systems, or effective electrical stunning without live inversion.
  6. Demonstrate compliance with the above standards via third-party auditing and annual public reporting on progress towards this commitment.

A sense of the challenge for food businesses

Jenny Packwood, director of responsibility and reputation for KFC UK & Ireland, notes that concern for animal welfare is most certainly increasing amongst consumers.

"The question of welfare is something that matters. People care more than ever about their food and about the ethics of how it's been raised. I think maybe there's less trust and more anxiety about how it's raised."

She explains that the UK is quite proud of its food standards, noting that they are higher than most people realise.

Since 2004, she says, KFC is one of a very few restaurant chains which has signed up to such a commitment and notes that in the last two and a half years especially, KFC has put a lot of effort into establishing welfare policy. "Something in black and white that says this is what we expect from our suppliers."

Another step forward, she says, was investing in a software tool that allows KFC to collate and track data from all of their suppliers; that is 30 suppliers across three continents to track and measure animal welfare outcomes.

Such tools, she says, are important to keeping track of how closely they are keeping to their welfare standards.

No clear roadmap

Part of the challenge to adopting the ECC is due to the structure of the market. KFC is part of an integrated supply chain, and represents only 4 percent of the UK chicken market.

ffinlo Costain explains it this way. If KFC only purchases 10 percent of a producer's birds from a given house, that farmer is less likely to want to take KFC's direction. A farmer needs their customers to have the same system requirements, or else they could become stuck between two mutually incompatible systems.

KFC is confident, however, that they can deliver on this commitment with twenty years of experience tracking welfare outcomes for the birds they source.

Welfare at the heart of the ECC

FAI Farms works with major food brands, advising them on the delivery of food sustainability, including farm animal welfare.

Annie Rayner, FAI Farms, notes a range of behaviours that can measure flock welfare such as antipredatory responses or more positive signs of good welfare, such as dust bathing.

Dust bathing in particular can enable the birds to engage in natural hygiene behaviours, since it allows them to protect themselves against parasites, realigns their feathers, and generally supports an overall sense of wellbeing.

Kelly Watson, FAI Farms, explains that a good, friable litter is also important to other behaviours, such as scratching, pecking (foraging). Enrichments that encourage this can include hay bails and brassicas.

Annie Rayner explains that lighting is important too, and that ensuring good lighting can improve bird performance. Having lights not only in the middle, but along the sides of a shed can provide variation and encourage behaviours such as playing, and scratching around.

One part of the ECC, however, is the economic challenge of reducing stocking density.

Annie Rayner explains that higher stocking densities create challenges such as damp litter, skin burns, and inactivity. A high stocking density ultimately leads to flock stress and suboptimal performance.

Another challenge to adopting the ECC, says Kelly Watson, is lowering stocking density, since higher stocking densities are more economically viable owing to the return per kilogram of chicken when considering other expenses such as feed, water, and lighting. Fewer birds means that these other factors become more expensive.

This is also true of transitioning to slower growing breeds of broilers, since the longer it takes to grow a broiler to harvest weight, the more resources it consumes.

However, slower growing breeds, says Annie Rayner, are more disease resistant and exhibit fewer indicators of lameness, which leads to more active birds that are physically capbale of playing, scratching, and moving around.

Listen to the full Farm Gate podcast to find out more about what challenges are facing the adoption of the ECC, and what it means for producers.