The National Chicken Council released a revision of its Animal Welfare Guidelines and Audit Checklist, the industry-standard program for assessment of animal welfare programs and practices in broiler and broiler-breeder operations.

“Our revised program demonstrates the chicken industry’s strong commitment to animal welfare and ensures that companies that use the program will continue to meet the expectations of their customers for the proper treatment of animals,” said Thomas M. Hensley Jr., chairman of the National Chicken Council and president of Fieldale Farms in Baldwin, Ga.

The revisions were recommended by a task force of industry veterinarians and other experts and approved by the National Chicken Council executive committee and board of directors.

The revision is the first overhaul of the program in about five years. Bill Lovette, chairman of the task force and president and chief operating officer of Case Foods in Troutman, N.C., outlined key differences of the new program:

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  • The new program has a greater emphasis on corporate commitment to animal welfare, including a requirement that senior management must sign off on company’s animal welfare program.
  • Each department of the company handling live animals (hatchery, growout, catching and transportation, and processing) must have a person in charge of promoting adherence to the guidelines.
  • Each department must have a disaster response and recovery plan.
  • Employees who handle live animals must be trained in advance and must receive retraining every year, in languages other than English if necessary.
  • The new guidelines include a preface stating the principles of animal welfare.
  • The guidelines include a commitment to review the program every two years, beginning with review by scientific advisors in 2011 followed by an industry committee review in 2012.

“Numerous specific changes were made and metrics revised, resulting in a program that will be more challenging for our companies to comply with,” Lovette said. “But we believe this is what our customers expect.”

Among the principles stated in the document are:

  • Poultry raised for food should be cared for in ways that prevent or minimize fear, pain, stress, and suffering.
  • Guidelines for welfare should balance scientific knowledge and professional judgment with consideration of ethical and societal values.
  • It is the welfare of the chickens themselves that is foremost, not how humans might perceive a practice or an environment.
  • Poultry should be treated with respect throughout their lives and provided a humane death when processed for food or when they are euthanized for any other reason.