Comment: Higher welfare chicken must be evidence-based

By Gary Ford, chief poultry advisor, NFU

The Better Chicken Commitment has been a significant talking point in our sector over the past year and here at the NFU we really wanted to get under the skin of what the commitment’s standards would mean for growers.

We commissioned ADAS and Crowshall Veterinary Services to see what this type of production would mean for producers – one to better understand the welfare claims behind the commitment and another to determine the potential economic and environmental impacts.

The results were really enlightening. It showed that the additional animal welfare requirements would not significantly improve animal welfare and it also showed that it would result in an 18% increase in cost of production, a 22% increase in water usage and a 23% increase in greenhouse gases.

It also concludes that stockmanship is the single biggest factor in animal welfare – reinforcing our view that farm size or system are not themselves indicators of the level of animal welfare.

Despite these results, I recognise that many of our members would welcome growing birds to a reduced stocking density. Our concern is that a wholesale change to these standards would not be consumer-led and the success of our sector has been built on being flexible and always focussed on the consumer.

The NFU is urging retailers and food businesses to consider the outcomes of the reports and ensure that any decisions on signing up to the Better Chicken Commitment, with the aim to improve the welfare of chickens, are evidence-based and led by shoppers, and that they have fully considered how it will be delivered given the increased cost of production.

We must remember that any change to production that comes with increased costs means that producers will need long-term commitments from the supply chain to give them the confidence to invest.

 

Finally, congratulations to the NFU’s Poultry Adviser Aimee Mahony for her Young Poultry Person of the Year Award at EPIC – so good that her commitment and dedication to the industry has been recognised.

 

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