Compassion in World Farming Rebuts AVEC’s Cost Claims on European Chicken Commitment

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Compassion in World Farming has challenged the Association of Poultry Producers and Poultry Trade in EU Countries (AVEC) over the alleged costs linked to the European Chicken Commitment.

A report by UK consultants ADAS for AVEC claimed that transitioning to European Chicken Commitment standards would lead to a 37.5% increase in production costs per kg of meat, a 35.4% rise in water usage (12.44 million cubic meters annually), a 35.5% uptick in feed consumption (7.3 million tonnes), a 24.4% hike in greenhouse gas emissions per kg of meat, a 44% reduction in total meat production, and the need for 9,692 new poultry houses costing €8.24 billion.

AVEC’s president, Gert-Jan Oplaat, highlighted the need for consumer choice and awareness of the economic and environmental impacts of the European Chicken Commitment. He stressed the importance of maintaining affordable, standard options alongside higher welfare products.

However, Compassion in World Farming criticized the report for overlooking the benefits of higher welfare production, such as lower mortality, reduced antibiotic use, and better meat quality, which could offset some costs and environmental impacts. They argued that the European Chicken Commitment, despite its impact on cost and environmental measures, could be commercially viable with strategies like feed reformulation and innovative product development.

Dr. Tracey Jones, Global Director of Food Business at Compassion in World Farming, emphasized the scientific and public support for enhanced chicken welfare standards. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2023 recommended changes in production systems to better meet chickens’ welfare needs, which aligns with the European Chicken Commitment’s on-farm requirements and will influence future EU animal welfare legislation.

Consumer concern for animal welfare is growing, as shown by the October 2023 Eurobarometer survey, where 84% of Europeans expressed a desire for better protection of farmed animals. The European Chicken Commitment offers a framework for producers to meet this demand and anticipate potential legislative changes.

Dr. Jones noted that over 380 companies have pledged to offer higher welfare products by adopting the European Chicken Commitment. Many of these companies, including Marks and Spencer in the UK, are actively working towards meeting the commitment’s criteria. Norwegian producer Norsk Kylling has already transitioned fully to European Chicken Commitment standards without increased economic or environmental costs.

Despite the challenges, including higher production costs and environmental impact due to slower-growing breeds and more space per bird, Dr. Jones stressed the need for cost-reduction strategies and adjustment of practices. She criticized the AVEC report for ignoring these strategies and the broader positive impacts of higher welfare standards on animal and human health and welfare.

In summary, while investing in higher welfare chicken production entails costs, signatory companies can benefit from improved brand reputation and consumer loyalty.