EU scientists concerned by broiler welfare

EU scientists have identified a number of concerns relating to the genetic selection of broiler birds and to the management of parent stock.

According to a new report from the European Food Safety Authority, the growth rate of broilers increased by 400% in the second half of the last century, and this has led to a number of welfare problems.

“For broilers, the major welfare concerns associated with genetic selection were skeletal disorders leading to problems such as lameness, contact dermatitis, irregular body shape and sudden death syndrome,” said a statement. “These concerns are mostly linked to fast growth rates and lead to poor welfare.”

The report, which has been prepared under the terms of the 2007 broiler Directive, adds that broiler welfare could be improved if birds were genetically selected to withstand the environment they live in.

“For example, birds that grow more slowly should be selected for hot climates, as fast growing broilers are susceptible to heat stress,” it says. High priority should also be given to decreasing the number of lame birds and reducing contact dermatitis.

The scientists also expressed their concern at conditions for broiler breeding stock, in particular relating to feed intake.

“Breeders have a very high food intake,” says the report. “Feed restrictions are therefore necessary to limit growth rate to maintain good health.”

The scientists recommend that the competition for food should be minimised thereby reducing related injuries. They also recommend that birds requiring fewer feed restrictions should be selected as future breeders.

The report has been welcomed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) which has called for stricter legislation.

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