By: David Fikes,Vice President, Consumer/Community Affairs and Communication, Food Marketing Institute
Broiler Chickens

Food retailers can soon expect being contacted by their friendly neighborhood animal activist regarding concerns with broiler chicken production. Five specific areas of concern will be named. However, as a means of getting retailers to address everything on their wish list, the activist request will be that food retailers adopt/endorse Global Animal Protection (GAP) standards.

Here are the five areas that are being specifically targeted - as characterized by these groups and with some additional commentary in parentheses:

  • Transition to strains of birds approved by GAP based on measurably improved welfare outcomes (seeking to move the industry toward slower growing breeds)
  • Reduce stocking density to a maximum of 6 lbs./sq. feet (per GAP standards) and prohibit broiler cages (not really an issue as the industry doesn’t promote use of broiler cages)
  • Provide birds enriched environments including litter, lighting and enrichments that meet GAP’s new standards.
  • Process chickens in a manner that avoids pre-stun handling and instead utilizes a multi-step controlled atmosphere processing system that induces an irreversible stun. (This is not an actual recommendation found within current GAP standards.)
  • Demonstrate compliance with the above standards via third party auditing.

Several of the issues being highlighted have varying degrees of scientific support; for the most part the science is not conclusive or consensual regarding many of them. Also of note, several of the recommendations have significant environmental consequences and, as expected, most have severe economic impacts with no visible means of paying for them except to ultimately pass the costs on to the consumer.

Having animal welfare activist groups voice their concerns and urge company action is not a new experience for food retailers; however, this is the first time the pressured request will be for the entire food retail industry to all sign on to one set of animal welfare standards.

Food retailers are by nature a "both/and" kind of people, believing in choice and preferring to offer their customers product options with which they may express their preferences and address their needs. In other words, retailers like to keep their finger on the pulse of their shoppers and let the market decide production methods, price points and CSP values. Being forced into an "one and only one" situation results in retailers having to make decisions that affects supply and cost for all of their customers, but express the concerns of only a few. 

FMI Board of Directors recently passed a board policy endorsing the competitive value of having a variety of animal welfare standards that operate in accord with the five animal freedoms, remains current with ongoing scientific study and enables retailers to represent the values of their customers. The policy allows for companies to choose GAP standards if those are the best suited for the customer base. The Board policy also offers food retailers a unified position supporting the need for diversity in appropriate animal welfare standards, while respecting the freedom of each retailer to choose the standards that best fit expressed company values and the particular needs of their customer base.

When reviewing broiler animal welfare standards and before making a public commitment, FMI trusts its members will: 1) carefully scrutinize the science undergirding the anticipated standards, 2) have candid conversation with their suppliers regarding the consequences and costs entailed in any changes to species production standards and 3) perform the assessments necessary to ensure the standards - and their implications - align with the values and needs of the customer base.