The UK government has been criticised for failing to adopt a science and evidence-based approach over its controversial welfare in transport consultation. Despite an extensive consultation with the farming industry, the revised proposals fail to provide proof that they will benefit animal welfare.
Thomas Wornham, National Farmers Union poultry board chair, said the union had urged the government to undertake additional research and gather further empirical background information, especially as much of its evidence base was between 20-30 years old and did not reflect modern farming practices. “It is incredibly disappointing that government has not taken this suggestion forward, or supplied a thorough impact assessment on how the proposals will challenge the viability of the sector, or considered how they may potentially compromise welfare.
“We highlighted in our consultation response (February 2021) that the sector already has tried and tested protocols to manage bird welfare during transport, consistently applied through its integrated structure. These have proved highly effective in a sector where welfare is already a key priority,” said Wornham.
However, he recognised there had been one positive change to the original consultation – the exclusion of loading and unloading from the proposed journey time for broiler chickens to slaughter. “This was absolutely crucial for our broiler members as the original proposals would not have been viable and could have led to unintended consequences, such as hurried handling and driving in order to meet unworkable deadlines,” he added.
The union would like the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to make further changes and recognise the limited number of poultry processing facilities in the UK and the proposed journey limit of 4 hours will cause disruption to producers and processors. There are also currently no contingency plans for instances, such as disruption to processing plants, many of which have at times been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in the past 18 months, that may make the 4-hour journey times unviable.
Another major area of concerns is the proposal to prohibit all poultry journeys when the outside temperature is lower than 5°C or higher than 25°C. The union believes these are completely unworkable and incredibly vague about which species of birds they will apply to.
“This proposal could force the whole industry down the route of thermoregulated vehicles, which would require enormous investment and would take years for the industry to implement. Much more detail is needed in relation to this, and it is disappointing the government has not done a full impact assessment,” added Wornham.