Last week, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a report with clear recommendations to improve the welfare of chickens farmed for meat. The report demonstrates that the current practices used widely in New Zealand’s meat industry are compromising animal welfare.
Long-term hunger of the parent birds of chickens farmed for meat, caused by feed restriction, as well as mutilations, are highlighted in the report as well as the suffering caused by the unhealthy chicken breeds used throughout New Zealand.
Marianne Macdonald, Executive Director of Animals Aotearoa, says the EFSA report is yet more evidence that New Zealand’s animal welfare standards are well below par.
“The appalling lives of the parent birds used to produce chickens reared for meat is strongly condemned in the EFSA report. Chickens bred for meat grow abnormally big and fast. In order to raise the parent birds to maturity so they can mate and produce birds for the market, the parent birds are kept constantly hungry. Mutilations are carried out on the roosters in an attempt to limit damage to the females during mating. This is animal abuse and it needs to stop.”
The EFSA broiler (chickens reared for meat) report details the numerous ways chickens farmed for meat, including free range, suffer. The breeds used in New Zealand have been selectively bred to grow abnormally fast, causing many chickens to suffer chronic pain and lameness. The report details the need for breeds with more natural growth rates, more space per bird, and an enriched environment where the chickens can get off the floor onto perches or platforms, and be able to perform ‘comfort behaviours’ such as dustbathing and foraging.
The Better Chicken Commitment is a set of voluntary standards that significantly improves the lives of chickens bred for meat, by shifting to breeds that grow at a more healthy rate, providing more space and enrichments such as perches and objects to peck at.
“Already four progressive food businesses in Aotearoa have signed up to the voluntary standards of the Better Chicken Commitment, joining almost 600 companies overseas. These are standards that need to be entrenched in New Zealand law.”
In New Zealand, the standards for chickens bred for meat have not been reviewed for over ten years, and there is no code of welfare for the parent birds used for breeding.
“We are falling behind other countries in how we treat farmed animals. Despite the Ministry for Primary Industries saying in 2012 that a welfare code for parent birds was being written, 11 years later we are still waiting and, meanwhile, chickens continue to suffer.”
“The EFSA expert opinions build on a wealth of existing science showing that chickens deserve better. If New Zealand doesn’t want to be seen as a country that abuses chickens, we need urgent government action in response.”
- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) broilers (chickens farmed for meat) full report is here which links to a ‘plain language summary’ of the report.
- The last time the welfare code for chickens bred for meat was reviewed was 2012 and at that time MPI said the welfare of parent birds was being considered in another code.