What's new ? - 2018

What's new ? - 2018

Report: the intensive chicken production threatens public health

23 October, 2018

A new report from AgriBusiness Consulting (commissioned by Eurogroup for Animals) has called for a complete rethink of the intensive chicken production model that predominates in the EU, which threatens public health, pollutes the environment, and does little to respect animal welfare. Intensive broiler farming is typically characterised by high stocking densities, fast growth rates leading to a young slaughter age, very large holdings, and indoor rearing without access to enrichments. Although poultry farms with more than 100,000 heads account for less than 1% of total poultry holdings in the EU, Eurostat data shows that these holdings account for 38% of total poultry numbers. While there are slight differences in intensive broiler farming practices across the EU, these are subtle; production in the main producing countries tends to adhere to stocking densities of 33kg/m2 or higher, and a slaughter age in the range of 35-45 days. Intensive broiler production accounts for the vast majority (90%+) of broiler production in the EU. Nonetheless, some alternative, higher animal welfare standards for intensive rearing (with or without access to verandas or outdoor runs) have emerged and there is some free-range and organic production. The intensification of broiler production results in environmental concerns and poses hazards to human and animal health.
A major sustainability concern arising from intensive broiler farming practices is the continuing high reliance on antibiotics to counteract the negative health effects arising from high stocking densities and fast growth rate of the chickens; and the resulting impacts of this antibiotic usage on the environment, animal welfare, as well as human health and antimicrobial resistance more broadly. The latter is a particularly concerning long-term risk; while there are already clear indications of, and impacts from, increasing antimicrobial resistance, it is generally recognised that more substantial impacts can be expected in the long-term if action is not taken. Further significant concerns can arise from litter and manure waste streams in intensive broiler production systems. Local pollution issues may arise from the high concentration of certain nutrients and heavy metals in manure; and the spread of antimicrobial agents and pathogens, with resulting impacts on antimicrobial resistance and the potential for the spread of diseases. Finally, the high concentration of dust present in intensive broiler farms may lead to air pollution within the broiler house, with resulting impacts on the respiratory functions of both birds and broiler house workers. As a result of these various issues in intensive chicken production, the adoption of other broiler production methods should be considered. While antimicrobial resistance continues to be a key issue of concern across the EU, the impact of intensive chicken production on the environment and on animal welfare also provides an imperative to consider alternative broiler production methods.