One of the things we do as an organization around this time of the year while we’re setting our plans for the coming year, is to reflect on the year that’s coming to an end. Wow, 2016 was a big year for G.A.P.! In March, we made the commitment to moving all of our meat chicken standards over to slower growing genetics by 2024 – we felt this was really the only way to address the animal welfare issues in the meat chicken industry today. Right out of the gate, this announcement was met with a lot of support (see here, here, and here), and has been backed by Whole Foods Market’s announcement, and more recently, with the announcement of our partnership with Compass Group USA – adding an additional 60 million meat chickens to the initiative. The support of our certified partners, Compassion in World Farming, and Humane Society of the US, has been instrumental in the success of the initiative to-date, and in the path for future work to come. Aramark and Centerplate also made public commitments listing key elements in the G.A.P. program – we hope that they will extend this commitment to include the requirement that all poultry they buy be G.A.P. certified.
So what’s next? Early 2017, we’ll be releasing version 3 of the meat chicken standard, which will go into effect later in the year. There will be several updates to the standard incorporating all the feedback we received through our multi-stakeholder process, including, but not limited to:
- Increasing the light intensity at Step 1 to be at least 50 lux for at least eight hours during the day, with at least six hours of continuous darkness (
- Providing housed birds with access to natural light from G.A.P. 2 and higher through insulated windows or semi-transparent roofing placed evenly throughout barns/houses. (The combined area through which natural light enters must be at least 1% of the total floor space.)
- Clarifying the importance of good litter management to the birds’ environment for air quality, and in the reduction of skin related issues (foot pad dermatitis, hock burn, breast blisters etc.) with the addition of a minimum litter depth (3”) that covers the entire floor area of the barn, and that is maintained during the flock, and between flocks, with the removal of caked litter, and addition of fresh litter to ensure litter remains friable so that it can maintain it’s absorptive and dilutive properties, as well as be suitable for dust-bathing by the birds.
- Enhancing ‘outcome-based’ measurements, where we use bird measurements to tell us how the bird is doing under the management protocols used by the farm. The program already utilizes lameness assessments, and footpad scoring, and will add a soiled bird assessment (dirty feather assessment) twice a production cycle as an additional measure of litter condition (between days 15-20, and pre-slaughter). Auditors will also do a soiled bird assessment as a component of the audit. Additionally, auditors will take litter samples during the audit to assess litter moisture as we seek to better understand the relationship between litter quality, type, absorptive properties, temperature and relative humidity, and the impact on the birds.
- Adding requirements for slaughter, similar to what we’ve done for new species and to other revised standards.
Also in 2017, we’ll be taking the next big step in our slower growing broiler initiative with the funding of a study to evaluate the suitability of alternative breeds and strains of birds against our list of defined welfare criteria – the point of the study is to develop a science based, statistically relevant, objective way of evaluating suitability of different breeds with the aim of creating a list, by Step rating, for producers that explains which breeds/strains are acceptable. Stay tuned for more on this project, but we’re confident this study will prove an essential component of significantly improving the lives of millions of chickens.