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EU Rules on Chicken Welfare 'a Big Leap Forward'

by 5m Editor
8 September 2009, at 11:04am

UK The British Poultry Council (BPC) has reacted to the campaign against EU welfare rules, which will benefit all of the EU's broilers, adding that there is no justification for banning farmers in England having access to the higher stocking density if welfare conditions are met.

The British Poultry Council says the new EU rules on chicken welfare will benefit chickens throughout the whole of Europe, dismissing claims by campaign groups that the rules will mean chickens will be farmed in conditions worse than they live in now.

"It is disingenuous of these groups to make such statements in a misleading and emotive campaign, when for the first time we have detailed EU-wide legislation to improve and protect chicken welfare" said BPC Chief Executive, Peter Bradnock.

The new rules reflect much of current UK practice, specifying strict conditions for housing and management of chickens reared for meat, including air quality, light levels and sleeping times, maximum stocking densities, and the training required for all those who manage the flocks.

Importantly, the way birds are actually cared for on farm will be measured by monitoring welfare indicators for every flock at the time the birds are slaughtered. The Government's Official Veterinarian will report any welfare concerns from this monitoring back to the farmer and to the UK Animal Health Agency for investigation.

"This process of continuous official monitoring of welfare outcomes on farms provides real assurance that the welfare of chickens is protected and enhanced under the new rules," said Mr Bradnock.

The rules fix maximum stocking densities measured in weight per square metre of floor area. Farms that meet the conditions set down can rear up to a maximum of 39 kg per square metre, equivalent to between 17 and 18 chickens per square metre at the average UK slaughter weight of 2.2kg.

The legislation provides that, on a case-by-case basis, farms that meet additional stringent welfare performance conditions may apply to the Secretary of State for permission to grow birds at a maximum density of 42 kg per square metre, which is equivalent to 19 birds at the UK average weight of 2.2 kg each.

Crucially, farmers will only be eligible for this higher stocking density if they have had an unblemished welfare record for the previous two years on monitoring and have kept mortality rates to a low level prescribed in the legislation for at least the last seven consecutive flocks.

There is no justification for banning farmers in England having access to the higher stocking density provided for in the EU legislation. Such 'gold plating' will not enhance the welfare of the chickens because chickens will only be permitted to be kept at that level on farms where their welfare will not be compromised in any way.

Nor is there any scientific justification for such a ban in the UK. A recent major study on stocking density and chicken welfare by Oxford University, carried out for Defra, concluded that chicken welfare is influenced more by housing conditions than by stocking density.

While almost all chicken reared in the UK is at 38 kg per square metre or lower, BPC would not want ruled out the possibility of higher stocking densities in the future, facilitated by developments in housing or equipment design which benefit welfare.