UK should learn from leading US broiler standards

The UK has a lot to learn from the US when it comes to chicken welfare standards, according to Compassion in World Farming.

Compass Group USA and Aramark recently pledged to use 100% healthier, slower-growing chickens at reduced stocking areas by 2024, a move that Compassion in World Farming has “hugely” welcomed.

The organisation compared this development to the recent progress in pledging to source cage-free eggs which also began in the US, and saw supermarkets such as Tesco, Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Lidl and Iceland follow suit.

"The speed with which these announcements were made demonstrates the power of the market when forward-thinking brands lead the way and act as a catalyst for change", said Dr Tracey Jones, director of food business at Compassion in World Farming.  "We are hoping a similar domino effect will occur now that catering companies Compass and Aramark have made their intentions public about improving the welfare of broilers in the US."

‘Positive change’

Jones highlighted that, earlier in the year, Whole Foods Market became the first major food business in the US to support commitment to slower-growing breeds and better living conditions for chickens by 2024.

Although America may be leading the way, Jones pointed out that there was a lot of “positive change” happening on this end of the Atlantic also. Compassion recognises and awards companies that demonstrate higher welfare standards for broilers and display a high level of stock density, growth rates and the need for environmental enrichment.

“Will the US lead the charge on broiler welfare as it did on cage-free egg commitments?” asked Jones.

“We certainly hope that the UK arms of the Compass Group and Aramark will see fit to follow suit and start another wave of higher-welfare company commitments across Europe.

“While a 2024 timeframe seems a long way off, much needs to be done to ensure the transition to higher welfare is successful: long and often complex supply chains need to be brought on board, changes need to be made to housing and new breeding stock needs to be laid down. If companies are to meet their 2024 deadline they need to start working on transitioning now and, for clarity and transparency, report year-on-year progress.”

‘Broiler revolution’

Jones advised firms looking to design new buildings for the “broiler revolution” ought to consider the Windstreek system that was developed in the Netherlands. “This is a new design of broiler house, which incorporates multiple features for improved welfare, such as functional spaces for activity and resting, and which has strong sustainability elements, providing excellent air and litter quality, significantly reduced energy use and low CO2 emissions.”

Another benefit of operating a higher-welfare system with good stockmanship, according to Jones, is the possibility of reducing reliance on antibiotics. “For example, Italian co-operative Valverde has successfully reared Gran Selezione chickens that are clearly labelled as raised without antibiotics,” she explained. “This has been achieved not through consciously refusing to use antibiotics, but due entirely to using robust breeds and developing higher-welfare systems with stricter rules than legislation regarding stocking density, growth rate and environmental enrichment.

She also pointed out the broilers were largely considered to be a commodity, with the price of chicken meat and the way it was consumed reflecting this. “We all need to value the lives of these birds, appreciating them as sentient beings that deserve a good quality of life. Eating less and better meat – that is from higher-welfare systems with proven nutritional advantages – is one way to achieve this.

“Adopting higher-welfare systems in broiler production is a win-win situation for everyone and we cannot wait to see more companies taking similar steps towards positive change for broilers as have been taken by Compass USA and Aramark.”

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