The EU poultry industry sets global standards

In recent years, people have been paying increasing attention to how their food is produced especially with regard to animal welfare and sustainable production. The European poultry meat sector is well prepared to meet these expectations, with production methods in compliance with the very strict EU rules applied throughout the entire production chain – “from farm to fork”. The current standards in place for EU poultry meat are among the highest in the world, focused on continuing to improve production conditions in terms of resource conservation and animal welfare.

Animal welfare

A top priority in the EU

Universal, science-based standards guarantee that poultry farming meets the same minimum requirements in all Member States. There is particularly detailed legislation in this area, in addition, individual countries can adopt even stricter regulations.

In the EU, poultry is reared in large flocks in floor systems and not in cages, as is often assumed. This allows the birds to move freely and behave naturally. In the barns, the animals always have access to fresh drinking water and feed. The floor is covered with natural bedding and the lighting provides a natural day-night rhythm. Air circulation, dust content, humidity and air quality are subject to constant monitoring and all barns must be regularly and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to ensure that the animals are reared in appropriate conditions. For the farmers, the welfare of their animals is the first priority: they inspect their flocks at least twice a day and document all the relevant parameters. Responsible care, in-depth knowledge and longstanding experience are the most decisive guarantors of animal welfare.

EU animal health regulations stipulate that the animals must receive feed appropriate to their species and age. Hormones have long been banned; poultry feed consists mostly of vegetables such as wheat, mais and soya and vitamins and mineral supplements that improve the quality of the feed and hence the animal’s health and welfare. The authorities regularly monitor the production and storage of these raw materials.

Antibiotics are never administered to animals as a preventive measure, but only if the birds are ill – and only on prescription by a veterinarian. The EU poultry sector is committed to a responsible use of antibiotics which means to use as little as possible – but as much as needed to ensure animal health and welfare. If treatment is unavoidable, sufficient time must elapse before slaughter to make certain that the active ingredients are sufficiently broken down and are no longer detectable in the meat. In addition, it is worth remembering that growth-enhancing hormones are strictly banned throughout the EU.

Guidelines also exist for transport from the breeding farm to the slaughterhouse. The animals must be completely healthy and the strict regulations on space during transport and transport times must be observed. As a rule, the animals must not be on the road for longer than 12 hours.

Another decisive factor for animal welfare is the staff’s expertise and responsible behaviour in everyday production.

Strict hygiene regulations apply to the entire process, from slaughtering to further processing and marketing: every room and all equipment must meet high standards. Compliance with animal welfare and hygiene requirements is monitored and supervised by an official veterinarian who carries out numerous checks before and after slaughter. Moreover, each packaging unit must be labelled when it leaves the slaughterhouse or processing plant, so that it can be rigorously traced.


Measures to protect valuable ecological resources

European poultry farmers are committed to preserving natural resources such as water, soil, and clean air to the greatest possible extent. This is done based on the EU directive on industrial emissions, which contains strict regulations to control the maximum level of environmental emissions in the production of poultry meat. These requirements apply to both farms and slaughterhouses. The EU poultry sector uses the latest scientific findings and state-of-the-art technology to continuously improve sustainability and environmental impact.

Poultry meat has a very good environmental scorecard compared to many other foods. One reason for this is the optimal feed conversion, which is associated with lower emissions. EU poultry producers are also continuously developing additional measures to minimise energy consumption in their barns. Computer-assisted control technologies support them in this quest. Many farms generate their own energy, e.g. with photovoltaic or biogas systems.

Compared to other foods, the carbon footprint and water consumption of poultry meat are very low and EU poultry producers are working to further optimise their use of resources.

Used as a fertiliser, poultry manure improves soil properties. This is mainly due to its high nitrogen content. Poultry droppings are therefore a good substitute for artificial fertilisers.


Further initiatives for improved animal welfare

European consumers and AVEC members are aligned on the need for transparent mandatory labelling of origin (‘EU’ or ‘non-EU’) for all poultry products across all distribution channels (restaurants, canteens, catering, etc.). Moreover, many countries have organised themselves to introduce their own labelling or approval system to ensure even higher standards.