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Weekly Overview: Markets Demand Better Poultry Welfare

04 September 2014

GLOBAL - Consumer pressure to improve animal welfare is maintaining a steady momentum, as indicated by the results of a new survey in the US, while the country's cage egg producers are fighting against the tide by publicly correcting untrue arguments in a newspaper article. Helping to reduce overall antibiotic use, one leading American chicken producer has announced it will cease their use in their hatcheries. High-pathogenic avian flu is rearing its head again in poultry in China and Viet Nam.

A new national survey in the US reveals strong desire from the public for more humanely raised chicken choices at the grocery store.

As the poultry industry kicks off its annual month-long celebration of chicken this September, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has announced the findings of a national survey that reveals a distrust of the chicken industry among consumers as well as strong demand for higher welfare production methods.

The ASPCA survey found that more than 80 per cent of respondents feel it is important that the chickens they eat be humanely raised. However, less than one-third of respondents trust the companies that make chicken products to treat their chickens in a humane fashion.

Poultry companies are making good progress in trying to meet market demands.

US poultry producer, Perdue Foods, has announced it has removed all antibiotics from its chicken hatcheries. It says it does not use antibiotics for growth promotion in its chicken production, and has not done so since 2007.

The company states it does use an animal-only antibiotic to control an intestinal parasite, and will use antibiotics to treat and control illness in sick flocks.

Not all animal welfare campaigners' demands are being met, however.

A recent article in the US included strongly expressed views against cage egg systems. In response, Ken Klippen of the US National Association of Egg Farmers issued a response correcting claims in the original publication, which he describes as "devoid of facts". He highlighted the better livability, higher production and less feed waste by chickens in conventional cages than those on free-range.

A new study in Canada allows individual birds to be weighed and their feed intake to be adjusted accordingly so they are productive without gaining excessive weight.

Researchers expect the greater uniformity and the greater precision to increase production but also better health and welfare of the birds as well as labour- and other savings.

In the end, it may be a higher priority that the poultry industry plays its part in feeding the growing global human population.

If current trends continue, food production alone will reach, if not exceed, the global targets for total greenhouse gas emissions in 2050, according to a new study by Cambridge and Aberdeen Universities.

A shift to 'healthier' diets across the world is just one of a number of actions that need to be taken to avoid dangerous climate change and ensure there is enough food for all.

And finally turning to bird flu news, China is facing a battle against highly pathogenic forms of the H5N1 and H5N6 viruses, while Viet Nam has also reported new outbreaks on H5N6. A low-pathogenic virus has been detected in game birds in New Jersey, US.

Jackie Linden

Jackie Linden

Top image via Shutterstock

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