Food Law News - EU - 2006

EP Information, 14 February 2006

LABELLING - EP supports better welfare for chickens

For a copy of the Commission Proposal, go to: COM/2006/0014 . For the reference to labelling, see the highlighed section below.

In adopting a report on the welfare of chickens, MEPs adopted tighter rules on animal welfare for birds kept for meat production than the Commission had proposed. They came out strongly against cruel practices like beak trimming and called on the Commission to standardise penalties for chicken farmers who do not comply with EU rules.

The consultation report approved the general rule established by the Commission to limit stocking densities to 30 kg/m2 per unit. However, MEPs call for several changes to the proposed directive, in line with their assertion that "economic and social considerations should not take precedence over animal welfare and health."

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 Parliament agreed to this possibility, it is proposing a cut-off date of January 1, 2013 , from which point on the stocking density may not exceed 34 kg/m2. In addition, some of the Commission's welfare 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 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 Parliament also added a reference to genetic selection, suggesting that this "must not restrict, diminish, or threaten animals' welfare potential."

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, and the cost of the 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. Nevertheless, the House insists that the penalties be "proportionate, progressive, dissuasive" and gradual.

MEPs also call for 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 animal's age and the stocking density at which the chickens are kept. [Emphasis added]

Worried about the possibility of lower standards of animal welfare around the world, MEPs also adopted 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."

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