The British Free Range Egg Producers Association claims that the RSPCA’s decision to press ahead with the implementation of aerial perching on its Freedom Foods free range egg units could be detrimental to bird welfare.
Members of the assurance scheme who have flat deck systems have been told to install 8cm of perching per bird by August 2018. Perching was one of several proposed changes tabled by Freedom Foods last July but implementation was delayed after BFREPA raised concerns over what it described as the lack of a proper consultation process.
BFREPA’s chief executive Robert Gooch said: “We are opposed to this requirement on a number of levels, with hen welfare being our primary concern. The evidence we have seen from Bristol University shows that fitting large amounts of aerial perching can lead to an increase in keel bone damage to hens.
“At a practical level this will also cause huge difficulties for those retro-fitting perches to sheds that weren’t designed for them, as they are likely to hamper daily management procedures.”
He said several BFREPA members had carried out trials to measure the impact of perching in commercial situations, and found that installing more than 6cm of perching per hen had no measurable benefit for the birds.
Mr Gooch said: “We have offered to carry out additional research with the RSPCA to find an amount of perching that improves bird welfare. That invitation remains open.”
Between 30% and 40% of BFREPA’s members are understood to be affected by the changes – approximately 250 producers.
“Producers using flat deck systems are already competing in a tough market and are generally operating at a smaller scale compared to multi-tier producers,” Mr Gooch said. “Ramping up additional costs and requirements on these producers is only going to add pressure to these businesses and dissuade them from investing in their futures.”
Mr Gooch said he was pleased that the RSPCA had listened to BFREPA’s concerns and withdrawn the requirements for specific perching configurations on multi-tier systems.