DEFRA has said it wants to transition egg production away from caged systems and implement the Better Chicken Commitment as health and welfare ‘priorities’.

The government unveiled its position during the NFU’s annual conference in late February.

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While it had previously outlined a pathway to delivering “gradual, yet continual” welfare improvements, this is the first time that specific ambitions for the poultry sector have been revealed.

For broilers, the government said its priorities were to:

  • “implement the Better Chicken Commitment, which requires slower-growing breeds, lower stocking densities and restrictions on thinning birds – these all contribute to improved health and welfare outcomes such as fewer leg disorders.”
  • “adopt welfare-improving technology to support environmental and behavioural monitoring and better stockmanship.”

And for laying hens, the government said it wanted to:

  • “transition out of cages: we are exploring potential reforms around the use of enriched cages for laying hens, which can restrict hens’ normal behaviours such as dustbathing – the Pathway will support producers shifting away from their use.” 
  • “improve feather cover management: we want to support farmers to address the underlying root causes of feather pecking, reducing the need for infra-red beak trimming.”
  • “improve keel bone health to reduce laying hens’ susceptibly to painful fractures, which can occur in all production systems.”

The government said it was hoping to “simulate market demand for higher welfare products by making it easier for consumers to purchase food that aligns with their values, improving transparency, and providing the industry with a level playing field to promote such products”.

Defra said it would publish more details of the new scheme later this year.

‘Welfare standards’

A Defra spokesperson said: “Farmers in England already achieve some of the highest welfare standards in the world.

“The new measures will support industry as they adapt to global health challenges like antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic disease outbreaks, the race to Net Zero, and biodiversity loss.

“The reforms will deliver benefits for animal health and welfare, farm productivity, food security, public health, UK trade and the environment.”