Animal welfare, a label to transform livestock farming

She hardly likes this moment, but has gotten used to it over the years: in a few days, Nathalie Bardon will see part of her broiler chicken farm – 4,000 animals, out of 16,000 – going to the slaughterhouse. An always delicate step to carry out, the collection of chickens, the crating then the transport in truck can be source of stress, even of injuries. “Our goal is that our hens have a good life until the end”, slips the farmer, small round glasses and rubber boots, looking at her animals.

In recent months, in this farm of Loué Farmers located in Sarthe, the protocol for transferring chickens has been modified in order to promote animal welfare. Pick-up teams have been trained in new methods and the number of animals per crate has been reduced.

These requirements are part of a much broader new standard, which could mark a real turning point in practice. Her name ? AEBEA, for “Association Label Animal Welfare”, a system of notes (from A to E now) developed since 2017, but which is gradually expanding and expanding.

Clear labeling

Carrefour, the U and Galliance stores (poultry producer) have just joined the initiative, launched by three recognized organizations defending the animal cause and the Casino group. (read the benchmarks). The challenge is to promote clear, demanding, but also unifying labeling, in order to avoid confusion between labels and to involve as many players as possible: breeders, cooperatives, large distributors, etc. Starting with the poultry sector, whose practices are regularly denounced.

→ INFOGRAPHY. How to read the labels on “animal welfare”?

To move forward, the “reformist” NGOs in the animal cause have bet on dialogue and voluntary commitment. “Society is moving a lot on these issues, and what was not a topic ten years ago is becoming a topic, notes Amélie Legrand, of CIWF (1). Companies are soliciting us, wanting to be supported, which has made this ambitious system possible. “ In fact, the required commitment is unprecedented in animal welfare and represents a real market, even compared to the red and organic labels.

230 criteria

First of all, the requirement and the high number of criteria – 230 in all, from birth to slaughter. “The grid begins with the breeding parents of the chick, goes through the hatchery, the breeding and the slaughter conditions”, explains Amélie Legrand. Above all, continues the activist, “These criteria do not compensate: to obtain an A rating, a good litter does not prevent the outdoors. “

→ DEBATE. How far should animal abuse be taken into account?

Another novelty: the obligation of results, and no longer only of means, controlled by independent bodies. “The employees of these organizations are specifically trained, in particular to observe the behavior of animals. A bird frightened by the presence of humans is a bad sign “, illustrates Martine Cottin, technical manager at Les Fermiers de Loué and veterinarian by training.

Finally, AEBEA hopes ultimately to involve a large number of breeders, without being satisfied with a “label” approach. “Today, we can distinguish poultry produced under the best conditions. It’s good. But we are abandoning standard chicken breeders, or around 80% of the sector, continues Amélie Legrand, of CIWF. To improve the condition of farm animals, we must address everyone … and play transparency. “ So assume, at least temporarily, labeling C, D and E, levels where fast growing chickens are raised in buildings, with high densities (animal welfare is taken into account from level C ).

“This approach forces us to question ourselves”

“Our wish is to support breeders to reach a minimum of C for Carrefour brands”, explains Séverine Fontaine, quality director of the brand, who has just been fined 2.93 million euros for ” non-compliance with rules “ during 2019 business negotiations with food suppliers. “Recalling, of course, that the lower-rated chickens are nevertheless compliant and regulatory”, says she. The first chickens labeled with the private label will be on sale this Tuesday, February 18. “Ultimately, the labeling will concern 20 million chickens per year on our shelves”, indicates the group.

→ MAINTENANCE. Can we make the slaughter of animals less cruel?

In Nathalie Bardon’s farm, the A rating is already acquired, as for the thousand breeders of Les Fermiers de Loué. “It’s true that we already had demanding specifications, says the farmer. But still: this approach forces us to question ourselves. “ At first, she did not believe too much in the usefulness of perches, imposed by AEBEA – and whose cleaning involves an additional task. But to see her chickens cheering on these iron bars, she changed her mind.

Producing quality at a cost

Like Francis Emery, a breeder a few kilometers away, who admits having grumbled at first. “More audits? We are always asked for more quality. But at the same time, the pressure on prices is real ”, in an area where 35-day chickens – when their own have a lifespan exceeding 80 days – are driving prices down. He still sees in AEBEA a great virtue: “This labeling will set us apart, thwart marketing strategies that mislead the consumer”.

“To produce quality broiler, it takes time, space, professionals, recalls Yves de la Fouchardière, the director of the Loué Farmers. All of this comes at a cost that standard chicken producers do not have to bear. Our efforts must be visible. “

→ DEBATE. Animal welfare: should you still go to the circus or the zoo?

“This new labeling represents an important step”, considers for its part the philosopher Corine Pelluchon, whose work on the animal cause is authoritative (2), adding “That the NGOs involved have great expertise”. For her, we must also salute the choice of“A common approach, making it possible to advance concretely, rather than sticking to ideological oppositions”.

Animal welfare: “The challenge is that these requirements become the norm”

She knows, however, that the road will be long, given the grip of intensive farming in France. Not to mention the competition from chickens from abroad. “But the momentum has started”, hopes the academic. In a press release, AEBEA ensures that labeling can “Concern more than 80 million chickens per year”, is “10% of the total annual production of broilers in France”.

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Many committed actors

The Animal Welfare Label Association (AEBEA) brings together different actors:

Four animal protection NGOs: the Animal Law, Ethics and Science Foundation (LFDA), CIWF (Compassion in World Farming), the Work for Assistance to Slaughterhouse Animals (OABA) and Welfarm-World Farm Animal Protection (which joined the process in a second step).

Three distributors: Casino, Carrefour and U stores. The labeling concerns only their brands or those of the producers associated with the approach and that they market.

Poultry producers: les Fermiers de Loué, les Fermiers du Sud-Ouest and Galliance.

The animal welfare label includes 5 levels of evaluation (from A for level higher than E, minimum level), which depend on criteria such as the method of raising chickens – outdoor or in buildings -, their growth rate and lifespan or even the existence of devices – perches for example – allowing them to express their behavior natural.