Govt in move to reduce chicken living space

By Jon Ashford

Legislation is in the works to decrease the required living space for farming chickens.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is considering adopting new EU legislation resulting in an eight per cent decrease in living space for chickens.

Current requirements allow a chicken to be kept in a space 15 per cent smaller than a piece of A4 paper. The EU legislation would reduce this to 25 per cent.

Defra’s announcement provoked strong criticism from animal rights groups.

Dr Marc Cooper – the RSPCA’s senior farm animal scientist – suggested that the legislation could have a “significant impact on mortality rates, skin and leg problems as well as making it harder for these birds to perform basic natural behaviours like walking or flapping their wings”.

He cited Britain’s heritage of “progressive animal welfare laws” as a reason to support the RSPCA’s ‘Quash the Squash’ campaign, which the RSPCA launched to highlight the issue.

Other animal rights groups quickly offered their support for the campaign.

Päivi Vahvelainen, programmes manager UK at the World Society for the Protection of Animals maintained that chickens in the UK should at least be kept in conditions that meet ‘RSPCA welfare standards’.

A Defra spokesperson said: “The new EU rules for the first time provide a legal baseline on stocking densities for all producers, including those who do not participate in any voluntary assurance scheme.

“Defra has consulted on the new EU regulations and code for meat chicken welfare and will be announcing its decision on implementation shortly.”

Agriculture minister Jim Fitzpatrick will consider the implementation of the policy in September.