Code of welfare for meat chickens released

26 July 2012

New standards covering the welfare of chickens raised for their meat came into effect today.

The minimum standards and best practice guidelines are set out in the new code of welfare for meat chickens.

John Hellström, chair of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) which developed the code, says it will replace the code of welfare for broiler chickens which was issued in 2003.

“The previous code concentrated solely on chickens that are fully housed. The new code has a broader scope and includes chickens that have access to the outdoors,” Mr Hellström says.

“Another key change is that farmers will have to take the environment of the chicken into account when deciding on how many chickens to keep in a given area.

“Farmers will still be required to stay within the minimum standards for stocking density, but they will now have to also consider things like litter quality, lighting, air quality and temperature when deciding how to house their chickens.”

NAWAC is an expert committee formed to give advice about animal welfare to the Minister for Primary Industries. NAWAC developed the code after listening to feedback from those directly affected by the code and the views of the public.

Codes of welfare expand on the requirements in the Animal Welfare Act 1999 with standards and best practices designed to provide for animals’ overall physical, health and behavioural needs.

You can read the new code on the web.

Statement issued by: National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee
For more information contact:
Sid Pickering
Ministry for Primary Industries
T: 04 894 2465
M: 029 894 2465
E: sid.pickering@mpi.govt.nz


Questions and Answers

What is a code of welfare?

Codes of welfare play an important role in improving animal welfare standards in New Zealand. They outline minimum standards of animal care and establish best practices to provide guidance for those who look after animals.

What is the process for developing codes of welfare?

Codes of welfare are developed by an independent committee which provides advice to the Minister for Primary Industries about animal welfare. The group, called the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), has a wide range of expertise across animal welfare, science and ethics.

When developing codes of welfare NAWAC takes into account public submissions, and comments from those affected by the code, as well as the latest scientific knowledge and technology.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, NAWAC has to be satisfied that the proposed standards are the minimum necessary to ensure that the purposes of the Act will be met and that the recommendations for best practice are appropriate.

Once NAWAC is satisfied with the code it recommends it to the Minister. The Minister then holds the responsibility to decide if it will come into force.

What code does this replace?

The code replaces the Animal Welfare (Broiler Chickens: Fully Housed) Code of Welfare 2003.

What are the main changes between the 2003 code and the 2012 code?

The main changes are that:

  • The new code covers all meat chickens. The previous code only covered meat chickens which were ‘fully housed’
  • The new code requires farmers to consider environmental factors (i.e. litter and air quality and temperature) when setting stocking densities
  • References to broiler chickens have been changed to refer to ‘meat chickens’. This is in-line with industry changes and to make the nature of the code more apparent to the public.

Does the code have a legal standing?

The minimum standards in codes have legal effect in two possible ways:

  • Evidence of a failure to meet a relevant minimum standard may be used to support a prosecution for an offence under the Animal Welfare Act
  • A person who is charged with an offence against the Act can defend him/herself by showing that he/she has equalled or exceeded minimum standards.

MPI will soon ask for public feedback on a review of the Animal Welfare Act, which includes the role of codes of welfare

What does the code not cover?

This code of welfare for meat chickens does not cover chickens farmed for their eggs. Those animals, called layer hens, are covered in their own code of welfare which is currently (July 2012) being considered by the Minister for Primary Industries.

It also does not cover the transport or slaughter of meat chickens, which are dealt with in their own codes of welfare. Similarly, the code does not cover the breeding of meat chickens, which is to be considered in a new code of welfare.

For more information see:

Highlights of the code

Lighting schedules

The code set out new minimum standards and best practice guidelines with regard to lighting schedules.

The New Zealand industry already ensures more than the minimum of four hours dark period per day specified in the code. The new code requires that at least three hours of that darkness is continuous.

Genetic selection

NAWAC noted that many of the emerging welfare problems in meat chickens (such as lameness) are partially due to genetic selection for fast growth.

The code highlighted concerns about chicken genetics and NAWAC said it will address it more directly in a future code for breeding chickens.

Stocking densities

Stocking density relates to the amount of chickens in a given space. When the last code covering meat chickens was issued in 2003, NAWAC stated that it would review stocking density within five years to take into account the latest science. In 2008 NAWAC reviewed the minimum standards for stocking density and concluded that a change to the 2003 code was not necessary. This was partially based on a 2006 research (Bagshaw et al) which showed that meat chicken welfare in New Zealand was on a par with global best practice.

The new code states that the current stocking density requirements in the 2003 code are appropriate as long as environmental conditions, such as litter quality, air quality and temperature are well managed.

This will allow more flexibility for producers in how they apply the code requirements’

Shade and shelter

The code acknowledges the need for shade and shelter in production systems with access to the outdoors. It has therefore included a requirement for access to shelter from adverse weather and conditions to be managed within a minimum standard.

Behaviours

The code requires that performance of normal behaviours should be catered for as far as possible and has included a minimum standard that meat chickens must have the opportunity to express their normal behaviours, and a list of those behaviours.

Handling

The code has added a physical handling section acknowledging that chickens must be handled at all times in a manner that minimises the risk of falls, pain and distress and avoids injury. In addition specific requirements for catching and loading are included in a separate minimum standard which includes the requirement that no more than four chickens may be carried at any one time in each hand of a catcher.