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We need a complete rethink on broilers

A new report from AgriBusiness Consulting (commissioned by Eurogroup for Animals) has called for a complete rethink of the intensive chicken production model that predominates in the EU, which threatens public health, pollutes the environment, and does little to respect animal welfare.

The report comes less than a week after the European Parliament urged the European Commission to address the major societal challenges caused by intensive broiler farming.

Antimicrobial resistance

According to the report, intensive broiler rearing practices are contributing to the increase in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in bacteria of zoonotic importance, such as Campylobacter spp., Salmonella spp., and E.coli (EFSA/ECDC, 2016).

Zoonotic bacteria that are typically found in intensive poultry production are developing resistance to multiple antibiotic substances that are important for human health.

Polluting the environment

Antimicrobials used in intensive broiler systems are also polluting the environment, through water and soil contamination and recent scientific studies show that up to 90% of antimicrobial agents used for livestock, including intensively reared broilers, may be excreted into the environment.

Additionally, intensive broiler farming is responsible for high ammonia emissions, with negative effects on both animals and humans alike, as ammonia is absorbed by land, water, and vegetation. A loss in biodiversity and greenhouse (GHG) emissions are also major problems associated with ammonia deposition.

Animal welfare

Broiler chickens are selectively bred for extremely fast growth which can seriously affect their welfare. Coupled with the poor conditions in which they are reared on intensive farms - high stocking densities and deprived of the possibility to express natural behaviours – all contribute to making intensively reared broiler chickens extremely vulnerable to disease. Consequently they require a significant amount of antimicrobials to stay fit and stay alive.

Time for change

Intensive broiler production accounts for the vast majority (90%+) of broiler production in the EU and it’s on the rise.

Given the animal welfare, environmental and public health implications highlighted by this latest report, we urge governments and industry to move away from intensive broiler production and support a shift to alternative systems where chickens have: more space to live, a stimulating enrichment to encourage natural behaviours, clean air and natural light, and where slower growing breeds are used which are more robust, less susceptible to disease and therefore need fewer (or no) antibiotics.

Read our guidance on how to develop an antibiotic stewardship programme here and review our broiler chicken resources here.