The RSPCA is banning a practice that has been found to increase the risk of Campylobacter in chickens.
From 1 January 2016, a procedure known as thinning, where a proportion of indoor-reared chickens are removed from a shed for slaughter earlier than the rest, will be banned on farms rearing to RSPCA Assured label standards.
A study by the European Food Safety Authority reported thinning is linked to increased rates of Campylobacter in chickens.
The bacteria is estimated to be responsible for more than 280,000 cases of food poisoning every year, and four out of five cases result from contaminated poultry, according to the Food Standards Agency.
Marc Cooper, chicken welfare specialist at the RSPCA, said: “Our ban on thinning will be a major step forward for the welfare of chickens.
“Once again the RSPCA is leading the way on farm animal welfare by setting these pioneering standards for indoor-reared chickens and we hope other farm assurance schemes will follow suit.”
Thinning maximises the number of birds that can be reared within a shed. It involves rearing the birds to the maximum stocking density permitted and then removing a proportion of them to lower the density. This can take place several times before all the birds are finally removed from the shed.
It can be stressful for the birds as their feed is removed to allow teams to round up the birds more easily. Also the temperature inside the shed can drop, particularly during the winter, as teams enter.
Dr Cooper added: “Welfare is often compromised to produce chicken as cheaply as possible. Consumers concerned about farm animal welfare who want to make a difference should look for the RSPCA Assured label.
“I hope producers who are not rearing to RSPCA welfare standards will follow suit and ban thinning, but without implementing other compensatory management practices, such as increasing stocking densities, which could have a negative impact on welfare.”