EU Poultry Directive

by 5m Editor
1 August 2005, at 12:00am

By the European Commission - The farming of chickens for meat production represents an important farming sector within the EU. This is illustrated by the fact that more than 4 billion chickens are slaughtered for meat production in the EU-15 each year , a higher number of animals than from any other farming system.

EU Poultry Directive - By the European Commission - The farming of chickens for meat production represents an important farming sector within the EU. This is illustrated by the fact that more than 4 billion chickens are slaughtered for meat production in the EU-15 each year , a higher number of animals than from any other farming system.

1) Context of the Proposal: Grounds for and objectives of the proposal

With the accession of the ten New Member States on 1 May 2004 this number increased by approximately 18 %. Compared to other livestock sectors, the production of chickens for meat is one of the most intensive farming systems. However this type of production presents challenges for the welfare and health of the animals in question. This sector is not covered by specific Community legislation; only the general requirements of Directive 98/58/EC concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes apply. Therefore the Commission has decided to propose a specific Council Directive laying down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production.

General context

A report of the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare of March 2000, "The Welfare of Chickens Kept for Meat Production (Broilers)", identified a number of welfare problems, such as metabolic disorders resulting in leg problems, ascites, sudden death syndrome and other health concerns. The Commission proposal accompanying this communication aims to introduce animal welfare improvements in the intensive farming of chickens by means of technical and management requirements for the establishments, including enhanced monitoring on the farms and an increased flow of information between the producer, competent authorities and the slaughterhouse based on a welfare-specific monitoring of the chicken carcasses after slaughter. This proposal will be a key element in the context of the European Action Plan on Animal Welfare to be prepared by the Commission during 2005. It clearly demonstrates the Commission's commitment to bringing forward policy proposals with the aim of improving animal welfare standards, taking account of the welfare problems with current production systems identified by scientific experts. It also responds to the growing demands of EU civil society to move towards higher standards of animal protection.

Existing provisions in the area of the proposal

The welfare of chickens for meat production is not covered by specific Community legislation; only the general requirements of Directive 98/58/EC concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes apply. The Commission is aware that the existence of diverging national requirements for the protection of chickens and various voluntary quality assurance schemes, containing certain welfare-related aspects, throughout the EU has the potential to distort conditions of competition and may interfere with the smooth running of the market organisation. European citizens are increasingly concerned about the health and welfare of chickens kept for meat production. In particular, a number of animal welfare organisations have initiated campaigns calling for improved welfare standards.

It is also well known that good farm management practices have not only the potential to improve the health and welfare conditions for the animals but could also help to prevent diseases and mitigate any negative environmental impacts of the farming activity.

On this basis and taking into account the conclusions presented in the report of the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, the Commission has decided to propose a Council Directive on the protection of chickens kept for meat production.

Consistency with other policies and objectives of the Union

The Protocol on protection and welfare of animals annexed to the Treaty establishing the European Community requires that in formulating and implementing agriculture policies, the Community and the Member States shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage. Live poultry are listed in Annex I of the Treaty providing a legal basis for measures to improve the protection of such animals.

2) Consultation of Interested Parties and Impact Assessment: Consultation of interested parties

Consultation methods, main sectors targeted and general profile of respondents
Preparatory work for the proposal has included consultations with the major industry representatives, consumer and animal welfare organisations as well as discussions with relevant experts from Member States. In this framework a number of Commission working groups with Member State representatives were organised including a study visit to Sweden, organised by the Swedish Ministry of Agriculture, demonstrating the practical application of their animal welfare programme for chickens including the foot pad lesion scoring system. Specific stakeholder consultation meetings were also organised in September 2003 and December 2004.

Summary of responses and how they have been taken into account The outcomes of the consultations undertaken support the approach that animal welfare problems could be addressed by implementing enhanced self-monitoring on the farm and incorporating animal welfare indicators in the post-mortem inspection.

Animal welfare organisations highlighted as the most relevant problems for the animals the high growth rate (due to genetic selection) and associated leg disorders, high stocking densities and the restricted feeding of breeding stocks. Based on further scientific advice the Commission plans to submit a specific report to the Council and the European Parliament concerning the influence of genetic parameters on identified deficiencies resulting in poor welfare of chickens.

The producer organisations acknowledged that welfare problems had occurred and pointed out that the industry is actively working on improvements in this regard. In this context producer representatives stated that legislative action to better harmonise production conditions at European level would be welcome, as long as a realistic step-by-step approach is chosen.

All participants agreed on the importance of the training of persons in charge of the animals. Also the benefit of monitoring welfare indicators in the slaughterhouses as a means of identifying welfare problems on the farm was recognised.

Collection and use of expertise

Scientific/expertise domains concerned
Scientific advice in the field of animal health and welfare.

Methodology used
In March 2000 in response to a request from the Commission the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare adopted a report on "The Welfare of Chickens Kept for Meat Production (Broilers)".

Main organisations/experts consulted
Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare

Summary of advice received and used
The existence of potentially serious risks with irreversible consequences has not been mentioned. The report of the Scientific Committee concludes that most welfare problems encountered in chickens are directly linked to the selection for higher growth rates and better food conversion. A wide range of metabolic and behavioural traits have been altered by genetic selection. The occurrence of metabolic disorders results in leg problems, ascites, sudden death syndrome or other health problems.

An indicator for the occurrence of welfare problems used in the scientific report is the comparison of mortality between standard chickens used in meat production (1 % mortality per week), chickens of slow growing strains used under the "Label rouge" scheme (0,25 % per week) and pullets of laying hen strains (0,14 %).

As main health and welfare problems the following can be identified:

  • Mortality in standard broiler production units is higher than in other types of chicken holdings (fattening of slow growing chicken strains or rearing of laying hens). Mortality of young chickens can be related to pre-hatching factors such as egg quality. In older birds metabolic disorders linked to the rapid growth have an important influence.

  • Skeletal disorders, in particular different forms of leg weakness can impair the birds' welfare by reducing walking ability, in severe cases linked with pain and discomfort. Bone weakness and deformations may result in bone fractures during catching and the slaughter process. Skeletal disorders can have infectious, developmental or degenerative causes.

  • Contact dermatitis occurs in the form of breast blisters, hock burns or most commonly foot pad dermatitis. Severe lesions can cause pain and are gateways for other infections resulting in a reduced health status and poor productivity. Litter quality appears to be an important factor contributing to the problem.

  • Ascites is an important lethal disease of metabolic origin. Air quality, light conditions, temperature and nutrition are important factors affecting the risk of ascites.

  • The Sudden Death Syndrome shares a wide range of risk factors and causes with ascites. As this syndrome leads within a few minutes to the death of birds otherwise in generally good condition the welfare relevance may be lower compared with ascites which causes chronic suffering.

  • Respiratory and mucous membrane problems can be associated either with infectious or non-infectious causes, including those related to poor air quality. Respiratory pathologies represent an indicator for the hygiene standards in an establishment and might indicate problems with the climate control.

  • Thermal discomfort has an important impact on the welfare of the birds. Chickens experience thermal comfort only in a very narrow range of ambient temperature. The risk of heat stress increases with the growth of the birds since the metabolic heat production rises and the available space for each chicken decreases. Thermal comfort depends not only on temperature but is also influenced by the relative humidity.

  • Behavioural restrictions caused by high stocking densities can result in an inability to perform locomotor and litter directed activities and thus can negatively affect the welfare of chickens.

Means used to make the expert advice publicly available The SCAHAW opinion is available on the website:

Impact assessment

The identified policy options were as follows:

  • No action:
    This option would not respond to the increasing public concern about the welfare of the chickens. At the same time the industry would prefer a better harmonisation at European level to avoid market disturbances due to diverging national legislation and voluntary quality assurance schemes at national level imposed by retailers and consumer demand.

  • Establishing minimum animal welfare requirements for the production of chickens: Directive or Regulation with detailed description of equipment and housing to be used in chicken farming:
    This option could fulfil the public expectations with regard to the welfare of chickens. However, a very strict regulation of technical details of the farming methods applied could lack the necessary flexibility with regard to the variety of farming systems applied. The development of more efficient and welfare friendly farming practices requires a legislative framework which offers sufficient flexibility. Legislation which regulates too many technical details risks hindering the ongoing technical evolution of the sector.

  • Integrated approach: Harmonisation of technical requirements concerning key factors for the welfare of chickens in combination with an indicator-based monitoring of the flocks after slaughter integrated in the post-mortem inspection for the most intensive production:
    This output-oriented approach was chosen for the proposal.

Further Information

To continue reading this report, please click here (138 page Word Document)

Source: European Commission - June 2005