Welfare concerns peak in USA and UK after recent legislation changes, undercover footage

21 March 2018 - Welfare concerns are high this week in light of recent developments in the US and UK
calendar icon 21 March 2018
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Last week the USDA withdrew a rule put forward during the Obama administration which would have enforced higher welfare standards for animals raised organically. In regards to poultry, the rule would have required more space for birds to be able to move around and stretch while also having some access to the outdoors throughout the year.

"The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective," USDA Marketing and Regulatory Program Undersecretary Greg Ibach told Nicole Goodkind of Newsweek in a statement. The regulations in question refer to those which allow large-scale organic farmers in the US to house three egg-laying hens per square foot or up to 180,000 birds in a single bard with no outdoor access, the Organic Trade Association told Goodkind.

This decision by the USDA came shortly before they rejected a petition from Mercy for Animals (MFA) signed by over 250,000 concerned US citizens which would have allowed poultry to be included in the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. MFA states that this rejection "puts consumers, slaughterhouse workers and animals in jeopardy."

"The USDA’s rejection of Mercy for Animals’ petition sends an unfortunate message", said Compassion in World Farming to The Poultry Site in a statement.

"That chickens, turkeys, and other farmed birds don’t deserve even the most basic of federal protections. We support the ongoing fight to ensure better treatment of these intelligent, emotionally-sophisticated animals.

"And in the absence of meaningful regulation, we will continue to work with prominent food companies to implement policy changes that meaningfully improve the lives of birds, including chickens, which comprise approximately 95 percent of farmed animals in America."

Across the pond, the UK has likewise been witness to recent welfare controversies, when undercover footage captured by Animal Equality at Walston Poultry Farm surfaced showing a barn of 500,000 laying hens crowded into cages, some of them dead, and only being checked once in four days.

Photo from The Independent

Noble Foods, who has a contract with Walston Poultry, released a statement on 20 March 2018 in response to this footage, indicating that they are making a commitment to going cage-free:

"Noble Foods has today announced a group-wide commitment to supplying cage-free eggs by 2025. This announcement comes as the culmination of months of planning to achieve the realities of moving to solely cage-free production. Noble has been working closely with its retail partners and the farming community to ensure a smooth transition."

Welfare concerns have steadily become more widely discussed and translated into targets and actions. "It’s going in the right direction", says UK Director of Animal Equality Dr Toni Shepherd to The Independent, "but too slowly for the animals that are suffering in these conditions.”

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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