Food Law News - EU - 2006

EP Briefing, 8 February 2006

LABELLING - MEPs hatch plans to protect chickens

MEPs in the Agriculture Committee want to tighten up animal welfare criteria for chickens kept for meat production. They spoke out against cruel practices such as de-beaking, suggested a harmonised European system for the labelling of chicken meat for consumers, and called on the Commission to standardize criteria and penalties for chicken farmers who do not comply with EU rules.

In a consultation report by Thijs BERMAN (PES, NL), which now goes before the full Parliament, the Agriculture Committee approves the general rule established by the Commission to limit stocking densities to 30 kg/m2 per unit. However, MEPs in the committee call for several changes to the proposed directive.

The Commission would allow the possibility of a derogation to the rules, up to a maximum of 38 kg/m2, if a number of additional animal welfare criteria are met. While the committee agrees to this possibility, it is proposing a cut-off date of 1 January 2013 , from which point on the stocking density may not exceed 34 kg/m2. In addition, some of these extra criteria regarding ventilation and temperature limits would be extended to all holdings, regardless of whether they were operating under the derogation.

Thus, under the amended proposal, all establishments would have to conform to a number of rules: non-flickering light of at least 50 lux intensity on a 24-hour rhythm, relative humidity of maximum 70% (when the outside temperature is below 10 degrees), temperature of maximum 3 degrees more than the outside temperature (when this exceeds 30 degrees), sufficient ventilation, regular feeding times, permanent access to water, minimal noise, dry litter, and twice daily inspections.

MEPs in the committee also wish to do away with the possibility of surgical interventions. Under the rules laid down in Mr Berman's report, practices of beak-trimming and the castration of male chickens would no longer be allowed under any circumstances. The enforcement of all these rules is to be carried out by national authorities "in the form of unannounced spot checks" at least once a year. The cost of these inspections is to be born by the competent authority itself. If deficiencies are detected, the authorities can mandate a reduction in the stocking density--severe deficiencies can lead to repeated reductions.

The committee would like a uniform classification scheme for symptoms of illness in chickens, harmonized penalties for infringements, as well as a common system of labelling chicken meat for consumers. The latter should indicate not only the origin and production standards of the products, but also the stocking density at which the chickens are kept.

Worried about the possibility of lower standards of animal welfare around the world, MEPs in the committee also propose an amendment calling on the Commission to "control, and where necessary, prohibit imports of chickens from third countries which come from holdings which do not observe similar rules on the welfare of chickens for meat production as those to be adopted by the EU."

For a copy of the Commission Proposal, go to: COM/2006/0014

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