The directive sets a maximum stocking density - 33kg of live animals per square metre - for intensively reared chickens. This can rise to 39kg if extra welfare measures are taken, such as the installation of ventilation systems, which keep the ammonia, CO2 temperature and humidity levels within strict limits.
Ministers also agreed that if exceptionally high welfare standards were met over a continual period, the stocking density could be further increased by 3kg per square metre. At present there is no EU legislation covering space for broilers and the new directive, which follows a surge of public demand across Europe for action, will therefore have a pronounced effect.
In other areas, the new directive stipulates that lighting in broiler sheds must include minimum periods of darkness to allow chickens to rest, fresh litter must be permanently available and proper ventilation must be in place.
Markos Kyprianou, EU commissioner for health and consumer protection, said the Commission would prepare a report on the possible introduction of specific welfare labelling for chicken meat, allowing operators who met high standards to benefit competitively.