Technical meeting on animal welfare aspects of genetic selection in broilers and broiler breeders

European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) scientists held a meeting with stakeholders on 23 September to exchange views on the welfare implications linked to the genetic selection in broilers, and welfare aspects related to the management and housing of broiler breeders[1].

The meeting provided an opportunity to inform stakeholders about the background and scope of the request received by EFSA from the European Commission (EC), to discuss the challenges of data collection and to foster further cooperation with all interested parties. Representatives of the poultry industry, breeding companies, research groups, NGOs, national and international institutions attended the meeting.

The participants exchanged views on scientific and technical aspects related to welfare of broilers, with special focus on data availability, data sources, and clarification of the scope of the request from the EC. It was concluded that genetic background, management and environment contribute to the welfare of the birds and hence need to be considered in the assessment.

Participants also agreed that poultry breeding for meat is a dynamic sector and stressed the importance of having access to the most recent data. It was concluded that the lack of a harmonised system for data collation may hamper scientific risk assessment. Methodologies for data analysis were presented to tackle these difficulties and to identify data gaps.

Request from the European Commission
The European Commission has requested EFSA to gather and assess all data available on the subject and produce two scientific opinions: one on the influence of genetic selection on the welfare and resistance to stress of commercial broilers; and a second on the welfare of broiler breeders. Based on these opinions, the Commission will submit a report concerning the influence of genetic parameters on the welfare of chickens to the European Parliament and to the Council.

EFSA’s work
EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) is supported by two ad hoc Working Groups of experts to draft a scientific report on the current knowledge on the welfare aspects of genetic selection in broilers, and broiler breeder management and housing. This work will form the basis for two scientific opinions planned to be adopted in June 2010. Both draft opinions will be subject to a public consultation in early 2010 and comments received will be taken into consideration when finalising the opinions.

Data collection and evaluation
A call for data relevant to the welfare aspects of genetic selection in broilers and the welfare aspects of the management and housing of the broiler breeders was published on EFSA’s website. The deadline for receipt of data is 15 October 2009.

EFSA also launched an Article 36 call for proposals to carry out data collection, integrate data from the public call for data and process a systematic evaluation. The project was awarded to a consortium coordinated by the French Institut National De la Recherche Agronomique (INRA). The 5-month project is due to begin in October 2009.

[1] Broilers are a type of chicken raised specifically for meat production. Broiler breeders are grandparent and parent stock.

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