The poultry industry is debating how to better communicate the diverse range of chicken production standards to consumers.

Stakeholders from across the industry met at a Poultry Welfare Forum last month to thrash out details of how the 'health and welfare ladders' of chicken production should be presented on pack.

Whereas the terms 'free range' and 'organic' were widely used and well known among consumers, terms used to describe indoor production were less standardised, according to Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming and joint chair of the forum.

Currently standard, standard assured, and indoor extensive production all fall under the umbrella of 'indoor' production. One of the aims of the forum, however, was to bring consistency of labelling to the whole marketplace, regardless of the production scheme in place, he said.

Stakeholders had expressed doubt the standards clearly identified a product's welfare level in a way that was meaningful to the consumer at point of sale, he added.

Another issue up for debate was how to increase the market for higher-welfare chicken in ways that provided mutual benefit to the industry. "If we communicate the ladder, if we grow the higher welfare end, there is only opportunity rather than threat," said Lymbery.

One of the challenges was how to promote one tier without damaging another, he explained. "We are not trying to promote some parts of the industry at the expense of another."

The British Poultry Council expressed concern over the plans. "We have objections over communicating welfare labels as such, as each system has different attributes," said chief executive Peter Bradnock. "We're not interested in a gold, silver, bronze approach, which is what some organisations seem to be pushing for."

Discussions, which were being held under Chatham House rules, were proving positive so far, according to Lymbery.