28 April 1995

FAWC hits out at poultry trade

THE poultry industry came under fire last week for breeding fast growing broilers which cannot stand up, and for housing laying hens in small cages causing widespread osteoporosis due to lack of exercise space.

The broadside was delivered at last weeks Royal Society meeting on foot problems by Prof John Webster, head of the University of Bristol Veterinary School and a founder member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council.

Prof Webster said that both these conditions cause pain in poultry and that radical changes are necessary in both broiler and egg production systems to overcome them.

On the broiler front, he reported surveys which show that by six weeks of age 25% of broilers exhibit moderate to severe lameness due mainly to genetic selection for fast growth and breast muscle over the past few decades.

At the end of lay in battery cages, Dr Webster said that close to 100% of hens show signs of healed bone fractures caused by lack of excercise. "Both of these welfare problems have been created by the poultry industry in response to consumer demand for low price poultry and eggs," said Prof Webster.

"At present the biggest welfare problem for poultry is not the farmers but the huge silent majority of consumers who do feel a concern for animal welfare but are able to switch off that concern when they select a heavy strain broiler from the supermarket shelf," he said.

Prof Webster proposed that to stop laying hens becoming osteo-paenic, the minimum cage size should be doubled from 450sq cm to 900sq cm and that all battery cages should be fitted with separate nesting area and a perch. &#42

Laying-hens in cages should be given double their present space alowance, says Prof John Webster.