UK - After a backlash from animal welfare organisations, Defra has decided that poultry welfare guidance will not move to an industry-led code as planned.
The policy would have started soon, and involved the guidance on complying with poultry welfare legislation moving to joint ownership between the government and the British Poultry Council (BPC). Similar moves for other agriculture sectors were intended to take place in future.
Whilst the laws surrounding welfare would not have changed, some organisations feared that this was a move towards 'self-regulation', and could lead to poorer conditions for poultry. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) also expressed concern that the move could "undermine public confidence" in British welfare standards.
The BPC maintained the move was only taking place because many elements of the existing guidance were outdated, and Defra did not have enough resources to update it.
BPC Chairman John Reed said: “We’re disappointed by the change of policy at Defra. What this means now is that we, along with other livestock sectors, will be left with outdated welfare guidance.”
The BPC added in its statement that it had been working towards the new guidance since 2012, and only ever aimed to help poultry producers comply with welfare legislation.
Mr Reed continued: “We supported the move towards jointly-owned guidance and we have contributed a significant amount of resource to this piece of work and are frustrated that it has been repealed before we were able to publish the content.
"By revoking its decision, Defra is walking away from an opportunity to ensure welfare guidance is kept up to date with the latest research using industry expertise.”
In a statement, Defra said: "In light of views raised, we have given the matter further consideration and believe we can achieve this objective by retaining the existing statutory codes. The work of the farming industry has been invaluable and we will continue to work with them to ensure our guidance is updated to best help them to comply with our high welfare standards."
The BPC said Defra will meet with the industry soon to consider the right approach on how to build the non-statutory guidance drafted by industry alongside the statutory codes.
One of the organisations that had been campaigning against the policy, Animal Aid, welcomed the u-turn, saying: "To deregulate and dilute what slender protection currently exists would have been monstrous."
The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said the u-turn set a "dangerous precedent".
NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said: “It’s extremely concerning to us that Defra is rescinding the jointly-owned animal welfare guidance - it sets a dangerous precedent for both government and our industry.
“Reversing considerable efforts to replace older, out-of-date guidance in the face of sensationalist pressure from campaigning groups undermines both government rationale and the importance of an up-to-date animal welfare code."
ThePoultrySite News Desk