The NFU has said it is still concerned about the introduction of new laying hen standards by the RSPCA Assured, despite the assurance scheme rowing back on some of the planned changes.
Meetings were held between producer organisations including the NFU and RSPCA and RSPCA Assured in January after a backlash to new requirements, which were published back in November without widespread consultation with the poultry sector.
Egg producers had been told they would need to ensure the provision of natural daylight for birds and the addition of verandas on poultry sheds.
Despite a number of meetings that have taken place between RSPCA, RSPCA Assured and the NFU and its egg producer members, as well as amendments to the standards meaning free range producers will no longer have to build verandas on their sheds, the NFU said it remained concerned that the new standards lack sound scientific backing and that no clear engagement plan is in place to continue improving bird welfare on farm.
NFU Poultry Board chair James Mottershead has also stressed that whilst some amendments have been made to the standards, it is also vital that active egg producers are involved in discussions in discussions on changes to standards to ensure their benefit to bird welfare.
He said: “Any proposed changes to standards must be made in collaboration with producers to ensure that they are practical and workable and, critically, that they are backed by relevant and robust scientific evidence to deliver an actual improvement in bird welfare.”
“The NFU has been working with the RSPCA and RSPCA Assured since they announced these new standards in November and we welcome their intention to build back trust and engagement with the egg sector. This must now be followed up with a clear engagement plan, including a genuine two-way discussion with producers.”
Following the most recent meetings that took place in January 2024 with the poultry industry and senior representatives from RSPCA and RSPCA Assured, the new standards have been revised to remove an implementation date for verandas for free range producers.
RSPCA and RSPCA Assured have announced that they will jointly engage with the poultry sector to conduct an in-depth review of installing verandas on free-range systems before any future requirement for verandas is considered appropriate. The veranda requirement remains for all barn producers with a deadline of implementation set for the 1 January 2030.
On the provision of natural daylight, the original timeline has been extended giving RSPCA Assured laying hen members seven years to implement the new standards in their entirety, which they state gives time needed to “allow increased engagement with industry and members”.
The NFU said it now wanted the RSPCA to pause the introduction of any new standards until commercial scale on farm trials have taken place with a representative sample of farms in different locations across the country.