The directive would for the first time enshrine in law welfare regulations relating to the production of chickens for meat.
It would impose a standard maximum stocking density of 30kg per square metre - but crucially would allow farmers who demonstrated good management standards to stock up to 38kg.
All farmers would have to ensure access to litter, drinkers, feed and ventilation, and buildings would have to have light and a minimum of two daily inspections. Chickens
seriously injured or in poor health would have to be treated or culled, and detailed records kept on temperature, medical treatment and mortality rates.
Charles Bourns, chairman of the NFU poultry committee, said: “I think it’s a very fair document. It is taking the emphasis away from stocking density, which is a very crude measure. The birds’ welfare is very much down to management of the farm, and the new directive will measure a farmer’s management and reward him by allowing him to have a greater density than a poorly managed farm. For the average Assured Chicken Production farm, it shouldn’t be anything to be feared.”
The directive, which still has to go before the European Parliament, comes after a longstanding appeal by member states and individuals for welfare action on chicken farming.
However, it was condemned as “baffling” by the RSPCA, which described it as a missed opportunity. The RSPCA claimed the proposal provided the equivalent of less space than an A4 piece of paper for each bird, saying this was worse than the conditions endured by egg-laying hens in battery systems.