Comment: Defra’s new poultry transport rules are not based on evidence

By Thomas Wornham, NFU poultry board chairman

When the NFU submitted its response to Defra’s welfare in transport consultation back in February, the overriding theme was that its proposals were simply not suitably evidence-based and that there was no proof the proposals would have a demonstrable benefit to animal welfare.

During 2020, the NFU and representatives from across the poultry sector engaged with Defra on welfare in transport. Industry was able to provide primary evidence which had been accrued over a number of years, which demonstrates the poultry sector’s commitment to animal welfare. Indeed, the recording and sharing of welfare outcome measures throughout a bird’s life demonstrates the importance the sector attaches to animal welfare.

Much to our disappointment, at this initial stage, there are proposed changes which will have a significant impact on the sector, without demonstrable benefit to bird welfare. Defra has proposed reducing maximum journey time from 12 to four hours for broilers. Another major area of concern is the proposal to prohibit all poultry journeys longer than 65km when the outside temperature is lower than 5°C or higher than 25°C.

On the positive side, there have been concessions such as excluding loading and unloading from the proposed journey time for broiler chickens to slaughter and maintaining the maximum journey time for day old chicks at 24 hours, with provision to exceed that limit for export if certain (yet to be defined) requirements are met.

The sector faces a complex undertaking in dealing with the proposed changes in transport time and ambient temperature requirements. The reduction in transport time will limit access to market for broiler businesses. It will also challenge business contingency planning if processing facilities face disruption due to breakdowns, extreme weather or notifiable disease, as witnessed with facility closures during the Covid-19 pandemic or movement restrictions due to Avian Influenza outbreaks.

The temperature proposals could force the whole poultry industry down the route of thermoregulated vehicles, which would require enormous investment and take years for the industry to implement. The complexity of how to plan for a reduction in journey length due to high or low temperatures to only 65 kms (or 40 miles) is dire.

We are an industry that engages in science and evidence-led decision making. Presently there is no up-to-date research to support Defra’s proposals. We have a great responsibility to maintain high bird welfare and I’m proud that our sector can demonstrate continual improvement over a sustained number of years.

Poultry has been successful in finding solutions to customer requirements, but these proposals will create extremely taxing situations across the industry. Defra has said they will be arranging a series of workshops in the autumn “to explore some of the issues and the evidence in more detail and develop workable solutions which will generate good welfare outcomes”. I would urge Defra use these workshops to fully engage with the poultry industry to better understand what we do and how proposals could impact our sector.



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