In 1999, the National Chicken Council (NCC) first developed the NCC Animal Welfare Guidelines & Audit Checklist, which have been widely adopted by chicken farmers and processors to ensure all U.S. chickens are being properly cared for and treated humanely.
Periodically revised, the guidelines cover every phase of a chicken's life and offer up-to-date, science-based recommendations for the proper treatment and humane care of broiler chickens — those chickens raised for meat, NCC said.
NCC pointed out that the U.S. national broiler flock is incredibly healthy and the mortality and condemnation rates for broilers, the most sensitive indicators of the health and well-being of any flock, are at historical lows.
NCC released Feb. 10 the 2014 update of the NCC Animal Welfare Guidelines, which has "more substance than ever before" and incorporates new parameters to improve bird welfare.
NCC said the new guidelines include a whistleblower protection, more assistance for training programs for proper handling, more documentation and monitoring of various practices and a more streamlined auditing tool for ease of auditing.
"The chicken industry has come together on a specific set of expectations that will continue to ensure the birds we raise are taken care of with the highest standards starting at hatch," NCC president Mike Brown said.
The new guidelines:
* Increase emphasis on corporate commitment;
* Require internal and external auditing for animal welfare;
* Require increased oversight by veterinarians, service technicians and live production managers;
* Provide more details on acceptable euthanasia practices from the hatchery to the processing plant;
* Provide new requirements to make sure the chickens are properly monitored for healthy legs;
* Require stunning procedures to be more effective;
* Change the audit scoring system to emphasize each step on the process from the hatchery to the processing plant, and
* Highlight the implications of non-conformances to the guidelines.
The guidelines were updated with assistance from an academic advisory panel consisting of poultry welfare experts and veterinarians from across the U.S., including Drs. Sarge Bilgili of Auburn University, Michael Hulet of Pennsylvania State University, Joy Mench of the University of California-Davis, Tony Pescatore of the University of Kentucky, Yvonne Thaxton of the University of Arkansas and Bruce Webster of the University of Georgia.
NCC is a non-profit trade association headquartered in Washington, D.C., that represents chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce and process chickens raised for meat. Member companies of the council account for more than 95% of the chicken sold in the U.S.