Feathers fly over poultry producers

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Norwegian food safety authorities have uncovered animal welfare violations at fully two-thirds of local poultry producers included in recent and systematic inspections. The violations were found at both farms raising chickens, the slaughterhouses where the chickens are sent and under transport of live birds.

This was the scene at one poultry producer, where chickens were 26 days old and ready for slaughter. PHOTO: Mattilsynet

The inspections by Norway’s Food Safety Authority (Mattilsynet) found violations at 102 of the 152 poultry producers visited during the major inspection program conducted throughout 2011, according to their report released on Tuesday.

“We have uncovered violations of regulations that directly affect animal welfare,” said Ole Fjetland, director of inspections for Mattilsynet. The violations, Fjetland said,  involved demands for the quality of ground covering in the buildings where chickens are kept, periods of darkness that are too short to allow the chickens to rest, excessive numbers of chickens showing signs of exhaustion, lack of sufficient access to food and water, and poor routines for dealing with sick or injured chickens.

“We expect the poultry industry to clean up its act,” Fjetland said. “Animal welfare must be improved.”

Defies industry’s own assessment
The findings are at odds with claims made by the head of the poultry industry association Norsk Fjørfelag, David Koht-Norbye, that “all chickens sold in Norway are healthy and fresh and have a good life as long as they live.” He told newspaper Aftenposten before results of the authorities’ inspections were released that he was convinced poultry growers had “become much better” at taking care of their chickens.

The industry spokesman was responding to preliminary findings by Mattilsynet last year that found violations at 31 of 35 chicken farms. He claimed he could document progress, and noted that many of the violations were minor. He also said the slaughtering houses inspect every chicken delivered by poultry growers.

The authorities had a different view on the industry, which has grown quickly in Norway over the past 20 years. It was almost impossible to find fresh chicken, especially chicken parts like breast meat or thighs and drumsticks, in grocery stores as late as 1990. Breast meat, called kylling filet in Norway, didn’t start appearing regularly on grocery store shelves until the early 1990s and whole fresh chickens were still sold mostly at speciality shops. The poultry industry has virtually exploded since then, with annual Norwegian consumption rising from just four chickens per capita in 1992 to around 13 now, reported Aftenposten.

Violations ‘at every step’
The rapid growth is in part what led to what the authorities called their “systematic inspection” of poultry production. They visited hatcheries and monitored the transport of baby chicks to the farms where they’re given around 30 days to grow. They also monitored transport to slaughterhouses and conditions there as well.

The authorities found violations “at every step along the way” that were critical to the welfare of the chickens. The actual 152 places visited were not chosen at random, according to officials at Mattilsynet. Instead, they were believed to represent the greatest risk to animal welfare after preliminary evaluation.

Four out of five slaughterhouses broke rules regarding personnel training, how containers of live chickens were emptied and how birds were handled. Some had broken legs before being hung up for slaughter, and weren’t properly stunned by electric shock in a pool of water before being killed.

Inspectors also criticized the containers used to transport live chickens, and stressed that Norwegian regulations demand better treatment. “Our concerns for animal welfare within  poultry production were unfortunately well-founded,” said Fjetland. “It’s the animal owners who are responsible for their animals. Inspections will continue to be a priority.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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