National Chicken Council releases standards for broiler welfare

by MEAT+POULTRY Staff
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WASHINGTON – In an effort to provide consumers with information regarding how meat chickens are raised, the National Chicken Council (NCC) has rolled out a set of standards as part of its Chicken Check In program. The Chicken Guarantees are a set of industry-wide standards for broiler chicken welfare in the US.

"NCC and its members remain wholly committed to advancing chicken welfare, continuous improvement and consumer choice," Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said in a statement. "But consumers today are constantly being bombarded with negatives on labeling – no preservatives, no hormones, no additives, no this, never that. Through our Chicken Guarantees, we want to provide the baseline principles that always hold true, no matter what chicken you eat."

The Chicken Guarantees ensure simple, clear and accurate information to consumers explaining how their chicken is cared for and raised. Regardless of the welfare standards a chicken company uses, or whether broilers come from conventional or organic farms, claims of no antibiotics or free-range, for example, the following principles hold true:

RAISED CAGE-FREE: The majority of broiler chickens in the US are raised in large, climate-controlled and ventilated barns, where they're free to move about, interact with other chickens and have 24-hour access to fresh food and water.

FREE OF ADDED HORMONES AND STEROIDS: It's the law. The US government has banned the use of hormones and steroids in poultry since the 1950s.

MONITORED BY LICENSED VETERINARIANS: Licensed veterinarians, who have a professional obligation to protect the chickens' health and welfare, provide comprehensive health care programs for every commercial broiler chicken flock.

RAISED BY FARMERS TRAINED IN ANIMAL WELFARE: Farm owners are trained in handling and caring for chickens in order to provide a safe, healthy and low-stress environment. If farmers or their employees mistreat chickens, they are subject to immediate disciplinary action, including termination and prosecution.

In a 2017 survey conducted by New Jersey-based market-research agency, ORC International, 76 percent of Americans mistakenly believe most chicken meat contains added hormones or steroids. Also, 70 percent of those surveyed believe most broilers are raised in cages and 62 percent said chicken labels and packaging confuse them.

"In addition to the industry's comprehensive chicken welfare guidelines that chicken producers use and are audited against, and other available welfare programs, the Chicken Guarantees are a simple set of baseline welfare standards that people can expect and understand when they buy and eat any chicken," Peterson added. "We support choices in the meat case for consumers, but the data clearly show that with so many options, consumers can become confused.  We believe that by providing our consumers with facts about chicken care, their choices can become easier. No matter what chicken they choose to buy and feed their families, they can be assured that their chicken was well cared-for."

"As chicken farmers, we understand that it is more important than ever to help define the basic standards for chicken care in a simple way for consumers, to provide them with more information about their food and clarify misconceptions," said Jenny Rhodes, a chicken farmer who raises 500,000 broilers per year in Maryland. "We're always seeking ways to improve the lives of the birds, because without healthy birds, there would be no chicken industry. Whether it's looking at space and housing, studying different nutrition programs, breeding for the healthiest birds or working to eradicate diseases, we're committed to continual improvement to do what is best for the bird, and ultimately, the consumer.       

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