Study shows rise in feed and water needs with Better Chicken Commitment

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/pidjoe
© GettyImages/pidjoe

Related tags Broiler AVEC welfare

A recent study commissioned by the Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade in the EU Countries (AVEC) indicates significant economic and environmental impacts of adopting European Chicken Commitment (ECC) standards across the industry.

The ECC, also known as the Better Chicken Commitment​ (BCC), is a framework promoted by NGOs that aims to enhance animal welfare beyond current EU legislation. Some 380 companies including retailers, restaurants, and catering businesses, have already signed up to the initiative in Europe. 

“Animal welfare NGOs have been advocating for the ECC since 2018, encouraging retailers and restaurant chains to commit to sourcing from broiler production systems with lower stocking densities and slower-growing breeds. However, these changes have led to increased feed consumption, higher water usage, and greater space requirements.

"So to understand the full economic and environmental implications of EU-wide adoption of ECC standards, we commissioned an independent consultancy to conduct a comprehensive report,” Birthe Steenberg, AVEC’s secretary general, told the audience at a FEFAC event last month.

RSK ADAS Ltd (ADAS), a consultancy firm specialising in agriculture, led the research project. 

Jason Gittins, technical director for livestock at ADAS, explained that due to differences in meat yields between standard and ECC production, earlier studies often underestimated the true impact of switching to ECC standards.

Another key aspect of this study​, added Steenberg, lies in the emphasis placed on calculating costs per kilogram of meat, unlike previous research focused solely on the consequences for live birds or liveweight, which “doesn’t accurately reflect market realities since we sell meat, not live animals."


A wide range of stakeholders weighed in on the findings during a recent webinar​hosted by AVEC and Steenberg noted the difficulty NGOs would have arguing against the study’s results, given their comprehensive nature.

Based on 5,674 million birds per year moving from standard to ECC production in the EU, the consultancy’s report finds there would be significant increases in feed and water intake to maintain the current output of chicken meat.

“Feed use would increase by some 7.30 million tons (+34.5%) and water use by 12.44 million cubic metres (+34.6%) if the current output of chicken meat is to be maintained."

Additionally the study found that, assuming crop yields remain constant, an additional 1.57 million hectares of land would be needed for crop production to meet the increased requirement for poultry feed.

Study shows key impacts from 5,674 million birds per year moving from standard to ECC production in the EU:

  • Increased Costs: Production costs would rise by 37.5% per kilogram of meat.
  • Higher Resource Use: Water consumption would increase by 35.4%, equating to an additional 12.44 million cubic meters annually. Feed consumption would rise by 35.5%, amounting to an additional 7.3 million tons.
  • Environmental Impact: Greenhouse gas emissions would increase by 24.4% per kilogram of meat produced.
  • Reduced Meat Output: There would be a 44% reduction in total meat produced compared to current methods.
  • Infrastructure Needs: To maintain current production levels, 9,692 new poultry houses would need to be constructed at an estimated cost of €8.24 billion.

AVEC said the results demonstrate how critical it is to develop alternative methods to enhance animal welfare without imposing undue financial burdens on consumers or exacerbating environmental concerns.  

Industry reaction

In response to the study, a spokesperson for Waitrose, an ECC signatory, reaffirmed the supermarket chain’s commitment to implementing the ECC while continuing to offer fair prices to British farmers, value to customers, and minimizing environmental impact.

However, other ECC signatories such as Nestlé, Danone, KFC, Marks & Spencer, and Auchan declined to comment or did not respond to our requests for feedback.

AVEC’s president, Gert-Jan Oplaat, said a balanced approach was needed: “While the ECC aims to improve animal welfare, it is crucial to recognise that these improvements come with significant economic and environmental implications. Knowing that EU poultry consumption is predicted to grow in the EU in the next 10 years, consumers should have the choice to select higher welfare products if they wish, but it’s crucial that standard, affordable options remain available.”

Slower adoption byUK retailers

Dutch supermarkets have swiftly transitioned to sourcing chicken exclusively from ECC-compliant producers, but UK retailers have been slower to adapt.

According to a 2023 Grocer article​, raising chickens under ECC standards in the UK costs approximately 15% more than conventional methods, leading to higher retail prices.

Amid rampant food inflation, intense price competition, and squeezed consumer budgets, this price difference may be unappealing to major supermarkets.

Furthermore, a wholesale switch to slower-growing breeds could disrupt the poultry trade balance. In net-exporting countries like the Netherlands, consumer demand could still be met despite reduced domestic production. However, a reduction in the UK's domestic production could have unintended consequences. Retailers might have to rely on imports that do not meet domestic standards, potentially undermining animal welfare rather than improving it.

Company compliance with ECC criteria

March this year saw Compassion in World Farming release its second European ChickenTrack​ report, which measures food companies’ progress towards meeting the higher welfare requirements of the ECC.

The publication reports on the progress of 85 companies across eight European countries. It shows that some food businesses have reported significant improvements, but many are stalling or failing to publicly share their progress reporting.

Norwegian producer, Norsk Kylling, is the only company to have achieved 100% compliance with the ECC criteria across all its chicken, while six companies report 100% compliance against at least one criterion.

The number of companies reporting on their progress has increased from 39% in 2022 (including producers) to 65% in 2023. However, the majority are falling behind on two key areas: moving to slower growing breeds and reducing stocking density.

Related topics Markets Poultry Europe Sustainability

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