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The welfare of broiler chickens

On 08/02/2018, in All posts, by Animal Welfare Intergroup
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The Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals has met today to discuss about the welfare of broiler chickens. Industrial broiler chicken production is the predominant model and was developed after World War II to supply the market with large amounts of relatively cheap meat. This type of industry is continuing to expand on a global scale, with serious concerns for animal welfare. Typically, broiler chickens are reared in barns that can hold tens of thousands of birds without outdoor access. Broiler chicken barns often lack natural light and any type of enrichments, such as perches or straw bales. This deprives chickens of the possibility to perform their natural behavior. Currently in Europe, farms with more than 5,000 broilers, defined by the Commission as “professional farms” hold more than 90% of the total EU broiler population.

Professor Harry Blokhuis, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, opened the floor by introducing the main animal health and welfare challenges in broiler production. Locomotion problems, food pad dermatitis, stress, pain, inability to display their natural behavior are only some of the problems broiler chickens have to suffer on farm, during transport and at time of slaughter. He said “about 2,5% had severe walking problems  and in total 15-25 % had some kind of gait irregularity.  Locomotion problems translate in pain, but also mean that animals  can have problems to reach food and water. Over 60 per cent suffer from different levels of foot pad dermatitis”. As concluded by EFSA in 2010, Professor Blokhuis stated that the occurrence of these problems is linked with fast growth rates. He ended his presentation by identifying key actions that, if implemented, could lead to better health and welfare for broiler chickens. He recommended the breeding of slow growing broilers, the improvement of management practices, provision of enrichment material to stimulate their activity and the reduction of pain in slaughterhouses by developing new technics. He also recognised the value of raising awareness among consumers to encourage market demand for higher welfare animal products.

Also Francesca Porta, Farm Animal Programme Officer at Eurogroup for Animals, highlighted that consumer awareness is key to stimulate the transition towards higher welfare production systems. Corporate campaigns are already rolling out across Europe as well as the United States. The European Parliament could push the Commission to deliver the study on the possible introduction of a specific harmonised mandatory labelling scheme for chicken meat based on animal welfare standards, as foreseen by Article 5 of the Directive 2007/43. The production and consumption of chicken meat increased significantly in the last 7 years both at EU and global level and more research is needed for the use of animal-based measures to assess broilers’ welfare on farm and at time of slaughter. A new legislative proposal which covers all the aspects that are currently not included in the EU legislation is needed: These are: the provision of enrichment material, provision of natural light, access to outdoors or covered outdoor areas, welfare of breeding stock and health issues related to the selection for fast growth.   “Nowadays the level of implementation of Directive 2007/43 is poor and patchy at best and the EU legislative framework itself is insufficient to guarantee animal welfare standards for broilers”. She concluded: “It is likely that the market will change soon. The European Parliament has the possibility to use the scientific outputs and the results of the corporate campaigns to drive changes at political level”.

The two presentations were followed by questions and lively debate concerning labelling, stunning methods, international trade and the use of antibiotics in poultry production.

 

Contacts:

Andreas Erler, a.erler@eurogroupforanimals.org

Francesca Porta, f.porta@eurogroupforanimals.org

 

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