Chickens reared for meat production will benefit from much improved living conditions throughout the EU, following agreement by farm ministers on new welfare standards.
The unanimous deal saw some watering down of proposals issued by the commission two years ago, but will still mean most broilers have more space and better accommodation.
The new Directive will introduce a basic maximum stocking density of 33kg/m sq of live birds from June 2010 – the first time any EU standard has applied.
This can rise to 39kg/m sq if extra welfare measures are taken, for example the installation of ventilation systems that keep the ammonia, CO2, temperature and humidity levels within strict parameters.
It was also agreed that, if a poultry producer can achieve less than 4% mortality over a continual period, the stocking density could be increased a further 3kg/m sq.
Other conditions include minimum periods of darkness to allow the chickens to rest, fresh litter to be permanently available and proper ventilation to be in place. Any chickens that are seriously injured must be immediately treated or culled in a humane manner.
“EU consumers have repeatedly expressed concern at the welfare problems that can arise through intensive chicken farming,” said food safety commissioner Markos Kyprianou.
“Not only will this result in better animal welfare across Europe, but it should also contribute to improving the health of the birds and the quality of their meat.”
But animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming said it was “immensely disappointed” that intensive poultry production was set to continue.
“Chickens have been pushed through selective breeding to reach slaughter weight in just 42 days, instead of the traditional 84, not giving enough time for their legs to develop and support the body weight,” said a statement. “As a result each year millions of chickens suffer from painful leg disorders.”