EU Internal Market and Industry Commissioner Elizabeth Bienkowska has committed the European Commission to develop more animal welfare indicators and promote funding to higher welfare chicken farming subsidies through the Common Agricultural Policy.
Commissioner Bienkowska also announced that the second EU reference centre on animal welfare would be dedicated to the poultry sector.
Her comments this week came amid growing pressure from the European Parliament for the Commission to correctly implement the legislation around the welfare of broiler chickens.
The plenary debate, which took place on World Animal Day (4 October), unanimously called on the European Commission to fully enforce the Broiler Directive and resolve the animal welfare, environmental and health threats resulting from intensive farming.
The debate followed the publication earlier this year by the Commission on welfare changes following the introduction of the Broiler Directive in 2007.
The Broiler Directive lays down minimum standards for the protection of chickens kept for meat production but the Commission’s report showed there had not been any significant animal welfare improvements and showed that enforcement was at best inconsistent across EU Member States.
Irish MEP Sean Kelly said too many birds were reared in cramped conditions and were unable to carry out natural behaviours such as perching and pecking or having access to natural sunlight.
Mr Kelly added that there were knock on effects to humans in chickens being reared in such a way: “There is a threat to our health from antibiotics used on chickens and this is simply an issue we can no longer ignore.
“Furthermore it seems that the pollution caused by industrial poultry production is ever increasing and is now seen as a major contributor to ammonia contribution of air, soil and water.”
He said it was imperative that a comprehensive approach was taken across all EU Member States.
MEPs said the Directive did not address the negative consequences on animal welfare that directly derive from selection for fast growth – a problem that has also been stressed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The initiative comes at a time when animal advocacy organisations across the world are stepping up efforts to raise awareness of broiler welfare through the EU Broiler Ask, urging corporate leaders to take action. Several global players, including Marks and Spencer, have already made ambitious commitments to impose higher broiler welfare on their supply chains.
A vote on the issue is expected in Plenary at the end of October.