Prepare for the imminent ‘Broiler Revolution’

Dr Tracey Jones, Director of Food Business, Compassion in World Farming.

Dr-Tracey-Jones

Dr Tracey Jones

Recent announcements from Compass Group USA and Aramark (also in the States) pledging to use 100% healthier, slower growing chickens, at reduced stocking densities and with environmental enrichment by 2024, are hugely welcome. Following the rush of cage-free egg commitments we saw over the summer, could this be the start of the next wave of higher welfare company commitments? We certainly hope so!

The recent cage-free egg revolution began in the US with McDonald’s and Walmart pledging to only use cage free eggs in their outlets by 2025. This created a domino effect with almost 200 other US companies from across all sectors following their lead, while in the UK pledges from Tesco, Aldi, Asda, Morrison’s, Lidl and Iceland came in rapid succession. In July food service business Sodexo announced a global cage-free commitment for both whole and liquid eggs by 2025, which was followed in September by a similar pledge from their competitor Compass Group.

The speed with which these announcements were made demonstrates the power of the market when forward thinking brands lead the way and act as a catalyst for change. We are hoping a similar domino effect will occur now that catering companies Compass and Aramark have made their intentions public about improving the welfare of broilers in the US. And it should be remembered that earlier in the year Whole Foods Market became the first major food business in the US to support a commitment to slower-growing breeds and better living conditions for chickens by 2024. Their work and that of Global Animal Partnership in the US, who promote slower growing breeds and facilitate continuous improvement in animal agriculture through their 5-Step®Animal Welfare Rating Programme, received a Special Recognition Award by Compassion at the Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards in June.

There is already evidence that positive change is happening in broiler welfare this side of the ‘Pond’. Through our annual Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards, Compassion recognises companies for their higher welfare standards for broilers through its Good Chicken Award which addresses stocking density, growth rates and the need for environmental enrichment. To date over 280 million chickens are set to benefit from the higher welfare policies and practices of our 85 Good Chicken Award winners.

Of the eight Good Chicken Award winners this year, Compassion recognised Jumbo Supermarkten in the Netherlands for developing their own higher welfare ‘New Standard Chicken’. This standard assures that 100 per cent of all the fresh chicken sold in all its stores comes from slower growing breeds, reared in higher welfare systems with a stocking density of 25kg/m² and we know there are other companies across Europe working towards similar change.

Will the US lead the charge on broiler welfare as it did on cage-free egg commitments? We certainly hope that the UK arms of the Compass Group and Aramark will see fit to follow suit and start another wave of higher welfare company commitments across Europe.

Whilst a 2024 timeframe seems a long way off, much needs to be done to ensure the transition to higher welfare is successful: long and often complex supply chains need to be brought on board, changes need to be made to housing and new breeding stock needs to be laid down. If companies are to meet their 2024 deadline they need to start working on transitioning now and for clarity and transparency, report year on year progress.

Those producers considering designing new buildings to be ready for the ‘broiler revolution’ should consider the excellent example of the Windstreek system that has been developed in the Netherlands. This is a new design of broiler house which incorporates multiple features for improved welfare, such as functional spaces for activity and resting, and which has strong sustainability elements, providing excellent air and litter quality, significantly reduced energy use and low Co2 emissions.

Another benefit of operating a higher welfare system with good stockmanship is the potential to reduce reliance on antibiotics. For example, Italian Co-operative, Valverde, has successfully reared ‘Gran Selezione’ chickens that are clearly labelled as ‘raised without antibiotics’. This has been achieved not through consciously refusing to use antibiotics but due entirely to using robust breeds and developing higher welfare systems with stricter rules than legislation, regarding stocking density, growth rate and environmental enrichment.

Broilers are unfortunately largely considered a commodity and the price of chicken meat and the way in which that meat is consumed, reflects this. We all need to value the lives of these birds, appreciating them as sentient beings that deserve a good quality of life. Eating less and better meat – that is from higher welfare systems with proven nutritional advantages – is one way to achieve this.

Adopting higher welfare systems in broiler production is a win-win situation for everyone and we can’t wait to see more companies taking similar steps towards positive change for broilers as have been taken by Compass USA and Aramark.

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