A recent study has shown that over 40% of consumers think about animal welfare when buying food and 33% of shoppers across Europe are willing to spend 10% extra for higher welfare, says Niamh O’Connell of the Agri-Food and Science Institute, Hillsborough.

Speaking at a recent poultry conference at Loughry College, Northern Ireland, she said the European survey of 25,000 members of the public revealed that 22% of consumers felt the welfare of laying hens was poor compared with 11% for pigs and 5% for dairy cows.

Recent high profile media campaigns were a factor in the negative attitude towards the poultry industry.

Ms O’Connell said the key issues for broilers would be the new welfare rules for stocking density coming into effect in 2010.

And for the welfare of laying hens, the cage ban in 2012, would mean an industry move towards enriched cages, barn systems or free-range systems.

“But free-range systems bring about welfare issues such as feather pecking and cannibalism, exacerbated by the 2011 ban on beak trimming,” she added.

Infra-red beak trimming could provide a solution. It’s likely it would be permitted, but the industry was worried about its effects on bird performance, said Ms O’Connell. But an independent study looked at infra-red trimming and found no differences in the welfare or productivity of the poultry in early life, she added.