With a delay of 6 years,  the European Commission has finally published a report to the Parliament and the Council taking stock of the welfare impacts of the Directive laying down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production (“Broilers Directive”). Unfortunately the report bluntly fails to address if and how the welfare of broiler chickens has been improved as a result of the implementation of the Directive.
The report comes at a time when animal advocacy organisations across the world are stepping up efforts to raise awareness on the agony of broiler chickens and engage corporate leaders to take their responsibilities. Several global players such as Marks and Spencer have already made ambitious commitments to impose higher broiler welfare on their supply chains.
The promise of the Broilers Directive was to deliver higher welfare through the use of animal based indicators. These indicators should allow farmers and authorities to assess and adjust on-farm rearing conditions that impact welfare. However, the report doesn’t say anything on whether the only binding indicator on cumulative on-farm mortality and the voluntary indicator on prevalence and severity of footpad dermatitis have been used to improve animal welfare. The main reason is that such indicators are not being used consistently across the Member States and that a common strategy to address the underlying problems on farm is missing.
The report also reveals major issues with the Directive’s implementation and enforcement . The fact that few countries have published guidance to inspectors to assess if on-farm ventilation is sufficient or that random farm inspections are generally focused on the resources provided rather than the birds themselves are just two examples of how this piece of legislation misses its principal goal of actually protecting the chickens.
The study and report confirm that there have been no major costs from implementing the Directive and that the competitiveness of the sector in different Member States has not been negatively affected by those operating at lower stocking densities. Yet, it also acknowledges that over 60% of broiler farms in Europe operate a stocking density of more than 33kg/m², deviating from the Directive’s base rule.
Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals, comments: “ These sentient animals live in such agony with total disrespect of any of their most basic needs, that intellectual honesty requires ‘minimum protection’ to be rethought in light of current practice. Several other key welfare issues currently remain neglected such as the use of slower growing breeds, a decreased stocking density, improved environmental standards, more humane slaughter methods and proper third party auditing. And even for measures that are addressed in the Directive, implementation and enforcement is at best inconsistent, and at worst shockingly weak.”
Industrial production systems are by far predominant in the EU: according to Eurostat data from 2014, farms with more than 5,000 broilers account for 93.5 % of broiler production. This means in practice that broiler chickens are deprived of the possibility to forage, dust bathe, nest, perch, express normal social behaviour, and use enrichment materials. There is no care for individual animals, which are housed by the thousands in dimly-lit sheds full of noxious gases, and nothing has been done to address the health problems caused by genetic selection for fast growth (e.g., lameness and cardiovascular diseases).
“We are calling on the European Parliament and Council to make sure the European Commission will now put forward a strategy to ensure that the available animal based indicators in broiler farming are consistently and effectively applied across Europe and that the Broiler Directive delivers on its protection promises. “ concludes Ms. Hameleers.
A new comprehensive strategy solidly based in science, using animal based indicators to measure the effect of legislation and policies is urgently needed, now more than ever. We are tirelessly working to make this happen.
Sophie De Jonckheere, Communications and Development Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elena Nalon, Programme Leader Farm Animals, Eurogroup for Animals, email@example.com
 The European Commission recently published a study on the implementation status of the 2007 Directive laying down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production (“Broilers Directive” 2007/43/EC). With this study, the Commission took a first step towards its obligation under the Directive  to submit a report to the European Parliament and Council concerning the law’s application and influence on chicken welfare. Five months later, the Commission has now submitted its report to the European Parliament and the Council reflecting its reading of the protection status of broiler chickens in Europe as a result of this Directive.
 Article 6: “On the basis of available data and taking into account new scientific evidence, the Commission shall, not later than 30 June 2012, submit to the European Parliament and to the Council a report concerning the application of this Directive and its influence on the welfare of chickens, as well as the development of welfare indicators. The report shall take into account the different production conditions and methods. It shall also take into account the socio economic and administrative implications of this Directive including regional aspects.”
 Some important enforcement problems identified include:
- Parent stock and hatcheries are not included in the Broiler Directive and so are not checked, although it is recognised that the conditions of the parent stock and in hatcheries influence health and mortality rates in broiler farms
- Less than 5% of all broilers in the EU belong to slower growing breeds, which are associated with better animal welfare outcomes
- 40% of broilers are kept at stocking densities of 34-39 kg/m2, and a further 26% are kept at stocking densities of up to 42 kg/m2, while 33 kg/m² was supposed to be the general rule for minimum protection of broilers.
- Only a minority of countries have defined maximum gas concentrations and provided equipment to measure this parameter
- Few countries have published guidance to inspectors to assess if on-farm ventilation is sufficient
- Random farm inspections are generally focussed on the resources provided rather than the birds themselves
- Operators catching and loading birds prior to transport for slaughter are not required to have a certificate of competence
- Despite the importance of measuring the prevalence and severity of footpad dermatitis (FPD) at the slaughterhouse – as this is correlated with parameters that can cause generalised poor welfare on farm – the use of this animal based indicator is at best inconsistent across countries. Targeted remedial actions in case of alert levels of FPD are even more inconsistent.
- Although monitoring of conditions such as contact dermatitis, parasitism and systemic illness are part of routine post mortem inspection at the slaughterhouse, the Directive does not define the extent or severity of such conditions that correspond to poor welfare