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Broiler Chickens

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 17 May 2007

I am pleased to tell the House that, after several years of talks, agreement was reached at an EU Council meeting last Monday week on new rules to improve the welfare of meat chickens. The United Kingdom played a crucial role in securing that agreement and in preventing a minority of countries, led by France, from watering it down.

I thank the Minister for that reply. I had a bit of a taste for broiler chickens, but I prefer free range. Will free-range chickens be subject to the EU directive and regulation?

They will be, but they already exceed the requirements because, by their nature, free-range chickens do not live in the sort of stocking densities that the regulation is designed to secure. The regulation is about protecting chickens that are not free range to ensure that the stocking densities are good and other welfare considerations are met. My hon. Friend will also be pleased to know that the UK has the highest proportion of free-range and organic chicken production of any EU member state. I am sure that he and the House welcome that.

May I endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) about free-range chickens? On chickens that cannot roam around farms but remain in very large sheds with artificial light, I understand that the European Commission was recently going to make a statement about requiring UK farms to increase the pulse of stun guns, given that many of those chickens are not fully stunned and therefore suffer.

I am afraid that I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman about stun guns. We constantly review the welfare of not only chickens but all animals at slaughter. We have made considerable progress in recent years, but I shall have to write to the hon. Gentleman, if he does not mind, to clarify the detail of the required voltage of the stun guns.

The Minister will understand that the welfare of broiler chickens and animals in general is affected by good investment in appropriate agricultural buildings. What representations did the Department make about the removal of the agricultural buildings allowance, especially the short phasing-out period of four years? It will clearly affect farming’s ability to invest in good-quality buildings for high standards of animal welfare.

The right hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, will know that we already have high standards of broiler welfare in this country. Our poultry industry was keen for there to be a level playing field throughout the European Union—that is one of the reasons for its support of the agreement. It will not affect our industry and the quality of its buildings. However, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman refers to an independent report by Lyons. It is not part of my responsibility, but I shall look into the matter and write to him.