Poultry operations juggle sustainability, welfare and profit

The poultry industry is under increasing pressure to meet competing consumer priorities: sustainability, welfare and low-price.

Doughman Headshot3 Headshot
Poultry farm (aviary) full of white laying hen
Poultry farm (aviary) full of white laying hen
format35 | BigStock.com

The poultry industry is under increasing pressure to meet competing consumer priorities: sustainability, welfare and low-price.

“I think we’ve accepted that there is no absolute perfect solution in this. A great example of something that I’ve seen in the world of tradeoffs is around antibiotic-free,” Gavin Hodgson, Buying Manager, Meat, Fish & Poultry, Sainsbury’s, said.

In recent years, a growing number of poultry producers have pledged to go antibiotic-free in response to consumer concerns about the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that all poultry raised for food be hormone-free.

Regardless of the requirement, some brands choose to prominently label and market their products as antibiotic free.

“A big concern for me is that we could see a situation where a farmer got paid a premium for what is deemed an antibiotic free product and the bird could still be lame, which has a negative impact on animal welfare overall,” Hodgson noted. 

“You can see very quickly how something that sounds like a good marketing idea can have an adverse effect at the farm level.”

Hodgson, alongside Nick Davies, Group Agricultural Director, 2Sisters Food Group, discussed how poultry farmers can balance the need to reduce carbon emissions on their farms with other drivers for change, such as animal welfare, during the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit.

How does slow growth affect sustainability?

Programs like the Better Chicken Commitment and Global Animal Partnership set strict animal welfare requirements, including a move toward slower-growing poultry breeds.

“What we have to remember is that one action may have multiple consequences,” Davies explained. 

Slower-growth poultry breeds may boost animal welfare, but tradeoffs in sustainability and profitability are required. For example, 82% of a bird’s carbon footprint is released during feed production so the longer growth period and increased welfare has an impact on the environmental sustainability of production.

“When you look at how we’re acting responsibly as an industry versus what consumers can afford,” Davies said, “there is going to be a tradeoff and a choice.”

Consumers need to be educated about these tradeoffs so that their decisions are driven by facts and not emotion, he noted.

Like what you just read? Sign up now for free to receive the Poultry Future Newsletter

Page 1 of 176
Next Page