Feathers fly

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – After receiving a letter from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which recently launched an effort dedicated to improving the welfare of chickens raised for meat in the US, claiming living conditions of chickens pose concerns for their welfare and present food safety risks, the National Chicken Council plans a response. Initially, Tom Super, NCC's spokesman, labeled ASPCA's description of poultry production in the US as “not based on fact” plus it “does not represent the realities of modern poultry production or the health and welfare of today's chickens.”

NCC will release new guidelines for chicken welfare before the end of this year.

“As the body that essentially sets industry standards, the NCC determines the quality of life for billions of birds,” ASPCA's letter stated. “We urge you to update your guidelines with meaningful recommendations to address welfare concerns related to both growth rate and husbandry, reflecting the values and expectations of chicken consumers.”

“We recognize that some of the NCC’s member companies have made limited welfare improvements to some of their lines,” ASPCA said. “However, we believe that truly meaningful welfare progress can only be achieved through slower growth and accompanying husbandry changes. Most chickens today grow so big, so fast that they struggle to stay standing and spend much of their lives lying in their own waste with open sores that can act as gateways to infection.”

NCC's Super responded: "The U.S. national broiler flock is incredibly healthy and is the envy of the world. Mortality and condemnation rates for broilers, the most sensitive indicators of the health and well-being of any flock, are at historical lows."

ASPCA urged NCC to consider updating its new guidelines to include recommendations for the following items:
* Slower-growing breeds of chicken whose genetics allow for better mobility and stamina.
* A stocking density that affords chickens more space than the current standard.
* Natural light in sheds that encourages movement during the daytime and adequate rest at night.
* Environmental enrichment such as straw bales that provide both physical exercise and mental stimulation and allow the birds a place to perch.

"Consumers want to be sure that all animals being raised for food are treated with respect and are properly cared for during their lives” said Super. “The people and companies involved in raising chickens for food share the public's concern."

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