New standards for Freedom Food broilers

The RSPCA has updated the standards for broilers reared under its Freedom Food scheme, including a new approach to determining what breeds of chicken are acceptable for use.

The move follows a similar revamp of the organisation’s rules for layers and pullets (Poultry World, August), which had a particular focus on reducing injurious pecking.

Many aspects of the welfare standards for chickens remain unchanged, for example chick handling, litter management, the need for natural daylight and stocking rates – still at 19 birds/sq m maximum for indoor systems.

Among the new requirements, Freedom Food producers will be required to take daily ammonia and dust readings, and take immediate remedial action if they go too high. Producers are also encouraged to offer scatter feed to their birds.

Free-range broiler growers are encouraged to take measures to prevent poaching outside popholes, for example laying concrete with plastic slats for at least 2m beyond the building. They must also provide at least 8sq m of shade per 1,000 birds.

Tougher guidelines are spelt out in the section on bird health, including a requirement for 150 birds from each house to be gait scored in the week before slaughter. All medicines must be kept in a lockable store.

One of the most significant changes is the introduction of a new section on breed, which must be accepted for use by the RSPCA.

Currently the standards only permit the use of slower growing breeds. But the new approach also requires the breeds to undergo a welfare assessment.

“The RSPCA farm animals department will evaluate the results of these assessments to determine whether they are acceptable for use under the RSPCA welfare standards,” said senior scientific manager Marc Cooper.

“Breeds currently used within the Freedom Food scheme must meet this change to the standards by 1 April 2015.”

Copies of all changes to the standards and guidance have been sent to relevant producers, hauliers, transporters and abattoirs. Existing Freedom Food members have three months – until 21 November 2013 – to comply with the changes, unless otherwise stated.

The full new version of the RSPCA welfare standards for chickens will be available in November 2013.

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