EU farming organizations aghast at EFSA broiler and hen welfare recommendations

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/davit85
© GettyImages/davit85

Related tags welfare broilers layers Efsa AVEC Copa and Cogeca

EFSA’s recently released scientific opinions related to the welfare of broilers and laying hens is based on a particularly narrow mandate on animal welfare set by the EU Commission, argues EU farming organizations.

The opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contain unprecedented recommendations which, if applied in these terms, would simply lead to the loss of most of the European poultry sector, meat and eggs combined, according to a joint statement by EU farmer and agri-cooperative representatives, Copa-Cogeca, EU poultry meat industry body, AVEC, and farm animal breeders group, EFFAB.

EFSA’s scientists recommended avoiding the practice of mutilation, feed restriction and the use of cages.

The two opinions​ – one on broiler chickens and another on laying hens – published on February 21, were requested by the EU Commission in the framework of the ongoing revision of the animal welfare legislation. A regulatory proposal by the Commission is expected in the second half of 2023.

The two reports provided advice on space, density of animals, lighting, dust, noise, litter, and structures such as elevated platforms.

“Our experts assessed the husbandry systems used in the EU for broiler chickens and laying hens and identified hazards to which the birds are exposed and the associated consequences for their welfare.

“They described ways to assess the birds’ welfare based on animal responses and proposed ways to prevent or mitigate the negative welfare consequences that they identified. The two assessments cover the entire production cycle from breeding and raising young birds to farming broilers and laying hens,” noted the Authority.

efsa welfare infographic
Infographic from EFSA summarizing some of its bird welfare recommendations

Stocking density 

However, the EU farming groups said that, among the key recommendations put forward by EFSA, the “most shocking” is the proposal to lower the stocking density for conventional broilers to a maximum of 11kg/m2.

“If applied, this would mean that the EU will request conventional poultry producers to make major on-farm investments while the number of birds in a barn will have to be decreased by 72%. Similar recommendations are made for laying hens in the EFSA opinion.

“This and other proposals will require high investments to be made by farmers, disregarding loans taken to comply with rules established before 2012 and still not fully recovered. Implementing such extreme proposals would result in closing small and medium enterprises in rural areas, losing competitiveness, and increasing imports, while facing a massive increase in the price of poultry meat for consumers," they maintain.

They also pointed out that the potential of balanced breeding and genetics for positive and better welfare is not fully recognized and the opinion focuses mostly on management measures to ‘solve’ welfare issues. “The work done so far by the poultry breeders, producers and industry should be further acknowledged.”

The EU is one of the world’s biggest producers of poultry meat with around 6 billion broiler chickens being reared for meat every year resulting in 13.3 million tons of poultry meat, as per data reported in EFSA's broiler opinion.

"Overall, broiler farming in the EU is characterised by high intensification with the majority of birds rearedindoor, at high stocking densities and where birds are bred for rapid muscular growth, and slaughteredwithin 28–42 days of age," wrote the agency's scientists.

Socio-economic impact 

The organizations acknowledge that EFSA scientists could not address other fields than that of animal welfare and could not tackle, for instance, the socio-economic impact that these recommendations will have, nor the sustainability aspects that were out of the scope as per the EC’s request.

“As a result of the Commission’s framing, this opinion does not compare on-farm animal welfare practices in the EU with third countries. Since there is no mechanism today to prevent poultry imports from third countries with lower on-farm animal welfare standards, this would simply lead to a higher increase of imports of poultry meat from Ukraine, Brazil, and Thailand; an already existing trend.”

The farming organizations are calling on the Commission to fill the gaps to avoid compromising on the socio-economic sustainability and animal welfare conditions.

EFSA has already published a scientific opinion on the welfare of farmed pigs, as well as five opinions on the welfare of farmed animals during transportation. Its scientists are also finalizing work on assessments covering the welfare of farmed calves, dairy cattle, and ducks, geese, and quail.

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