Chicken industry updates its welfare standards

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2014 - The National Chicken Council (NCC) has updated its animal welfare guidelines which the group says “incorporates new parameters to improve bird welfare.” NCC developed its initial set of guidelines, including an audit checklist, in 1999 for chicken farmers and processors. The guidelines are reviewed every two years and revised periodically.

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The latest revision calls for a mechanism for whistleblower protection, more assistance for training programs in bird handling, improved documentation and monitoring and streamlined tools to ease the auditing process, NCC said. The guidelines were updated with assistance from an academic advisory panel consisting of poultry welfare experts and veterinarians, the council said.

“The chicken industry has come together on a specific set of expectations that will continue to ensure the birds we raise are taken care of with the highest standards starting at hatch,” said NCC President Mike Brown. 

Matthew Prescott, the food policy director for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), said the updated guidelines also “require stunning procedures to be more effective” and call for an improved monitoring program to reduce injuries to legs and wings from improper handling by personnel or equipment.

The goals are to have less than 0.4 percent of chickens with leg injuries out of a 500 bird sample, and to make sure 99 percent of birds are effectively stunned before slaughter to make them insensible to pain, the NCC said.

In related news, United Egg Producers (UEP) president Chad Gregory announced Feb. 14 that UEP no longer will seek passage of the national hen housing and welfare legislation - in conjunction with HSUS - now that the farm bill passed without any new housing standards.

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