From a growing number of companies signing up to the European Chicken Commitment to EU citizens repeatedly asking for higher animal welfare standards, it is clear that provisions on broiler breeds are a must in the upcoming animal welfare legislation. EFSA recommends moving away from fast-growing breeds and using slower-growing, higher welfare breeds, as the breed factors profoundly impacts the health and welfare of the animal. Fast-growing broilers are known to have higher mortality rates than their slower growing counterparts, they also suffer from a number of debilitating, painful conditions affecting their musculoskeletal and cardiovascular system.
In her introduction, MEP Tilly Metz also mentioned the Oral Question in support of the European Citizens’ Initiative Fur Free Europe and the open letter from the Animal Welfare Intergroup to the European Commission on the Presentation of the four planned animal welfare revision proposals, highlighting the recent work of the Intergroup. Two additional points to the agenda were added by MEP Anna Bonfrisco and MEP Thomas Waitz: the former spoke about the need of the EU to act on the atrocious acts of cruelty on bulls set on fire in Spain in the name of tradition, the latter on the lack of traceability of cattle in Brazil and increasing live transport from that country. Two presentations followed: on the scientific basis for higher welfare broiler hybrids presented by Anja Riber, Senior Researcher, Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences - Aarhus University and on phasing out fast-growing broilers in Denmark and the EU given by Mia Bonnichsen, Food and Agricultural Policy Consultant, veterinarian, Animal Protection Denmark.
The topics of questions in the ensuing debate ranged from the change in the cost of production and willingness of Member States to follow the Danish initiative asked by MEP Petras Auštrevičius to those on the climate consequences raised by MEP Niels Fuglsang, who also highlighted the need to shift to more plant-based diets. He agreed that having legislation on limiting the growth rate is very important and mentioned the need for better enforcement of the current rules. MEP Anja Hazekamp emphasised the need to publish the EU Barometer, which would show the latest attitudes of EU citizens towards animal welfare. MEP Annika Bruna mentioned that the European Commission recently answered her Written Question on fast-growing breeds citing the EFSA recommendation of a maximum growth rate of 50g/day, so she believes that it is imperative that the Intergroup continues to put pressure on the European Commission to achieve this recommendation to be included in the upcoming legislation. She also highlighted that mirror clauses are crucial to ensure that the EU market will stay fair for farmers under the new animal welfare rules. MEP Caroline Roose spoke about the many EFSA recommendations which have not been taken into account by the European Commission, and that the Intergroup must put pressure on the European Commission. Birthe Steenberg (AVEC) intervened to raise concerns over the rising demand of poultry meat, socioeconomic factors and the climate impact that must be taken into account during a transition to higher welfare broiler breeds. MEPs responded by highlighting the need to transition to more plant-based diets as a way to improve climate outcomes, and not by producing more fast-growing broilers to align with predictions of consumption demand.
The Chair ended the meeting by reminding the participants that the fight for EU animal welfare legislation is ongoing, and it is a democratic necessity for the proposal to be published as soon as possible by the European Commission. The inclusion of provisions banning fast-growing broiler breeds is a crucial step towards a better world for farmed animals.