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Modern day meat inspection currently in a practice in many developed countries has its roots back in late eighteenth century. It was developed to check out various pathogenic and transmissible diseases which were prevalent in Europe at that time (Blackmore, 1986). This meat inspection practice formed a base for the eradication of various diseases like tuberculosis during 1960’s resulting in drastic improvement in human as well as animal health thus by reducing the chance of observing pathological lesions during meat inspection (Grossklaus, 1987).
During the past few decades it has been evident that the reservoirs of certain bacterial pathogens in the livestock and various farm operations results in the contamination of carcass at the time of slaughter and meat inspection (Tindall, 1997). The key purpose of meat inspection is the monitoring of disease in the local and national herds and assisting by providing feedback about the information to the relevant establishment or producer. The initial ante mortem inspection at the slaughter houses is a mandatory step in the United Kingdom before the slaughtering of animals intended for human consumption (Anon, 1995). The step is to ensure any visible or clinical signs of anomalies such as stress, injury, fractures or bruises (Anderson, 1987).
In the UK, Food Standard Agency (FSA) solely holds the responsibility for the meat inspection under the legal framework of EU regulation 854/2004. Initially it was monitored by meat hygiene services (founded in 1995) but later on it merged with the FSA on April 1st 2010 (vetSci, 2011). The broiler directive 2007/43/EC lays the foundation for the welfare of the reared chickens and meat inspection data collection from the poultry abattoirs under the charge of FSA (2007/43/EC). The core purpose of this is to check the incidence of any disease or a condition which might lead to the total or partial rejection of carcass or public health hazard, and a feedback to the producers to avoid a particular incidence in future. The review concludes the possible causes and effects of welfare hazards for the poultry producers and as well as processors.
- Poultry welfare on farm and related issues:
The research on the meat producing chickens is more diverse and vast in Europe while particularly in the United Kingdom as compare to many other countries with integrated poultry industry like United States of America and Australia. While in contrast the poultry welfare approach in two world’s largest chicken meat producing countries i.e. China and Brazil is nearly negligible).
While taking on account the welfare issues, some are regional like high temperature and which might cause problems for free range birds or when birds are transferred or removed from integrated houses while alike factors may affect the huge number of poultry chickens produced through intensive rearing systems worldwide including rapid growth rates, high stocking densities, especially ascites, heart and leg problems (Robins, 2011).
About 92-95% of European and other advanced countries, whilst 80% of world chicken meat production is based on conventional full housed systems (ACMF, 2009). Modern day fully contained broiler house could be considered as ‘closed system’ (Kratz et al., 2004), Which states that in addition to the genetic manipulation of some breeds the ample supply of feed, water, good quality litter and other standard substrates like artificial lighting and ventilation are vigilantly observed in an artificial system to maintain a consistent supply of inexpensive meat.
With the passage of time various modifications to the housing systems and nutritional requirements of selectively bred meat producing chickens has been done to obtain certain sets of targets such as rapid growth with targeted body weights in minimum time frame (Halevy et al., 2006). The key differences between the regional approaches of welfare of poultry not only includes the climatic differences like temperature, humidity, farm labor influence, water and litter material but it also includes the public perception and market culture of certain regions like media involvement and publicity regarding meat chicken in the UK and other EU countries has encouraged the consumers to buy organic and free range poultry meat (Sorensen et al., 2006).
The high level of welfare standards and research for poultry put the European Union in a leading role unlike the other major chicken producing countries of world including USA, Australia, Brazil and China (Van Horne and Achterbosch, 2008). The RSPCA is mainly responsible for the development and implementation of basic welfare standards and audit system in the UK (RSPCA, 2014) whilst in EU the council directive for the welfare of meat chicken was passed in 2007 (EUCD, 2007) which is an administrative authority for setting welfare rules for the chicken holdings kept for meat production.
- Rapid growth rate:
During early twentieth century meat and eggs were obtain from the traditional chicken breeds like Sussex in the UK however later through the genetic selection for particular characteristics modern day chicken breeds were developed which further have been categorized as slow and fast growing lines depending upon their target live body weights of 2 kg at 35 and 55 days of age respectively (Koene and Bokkers, 2003).
Heavy and standard lines are further differentiation of fast growers developed specifically for higher body weights and breast meat yield (Berri et al., 2005). In the UK, the RSPCA freedom food accreditation has restricted the growth rate to 45g/day (RSPCA, 2006). During growing phase higher mortality rates including some joint problems and other physiological anomalies are linked with fast growth rate of standard meat chicken breeds (Julian, 2005). In the latter breast muscle is the major target tissue causing problems like muscular dystrophy and hypertrophy thus causing imperfections in cardiac and skeletal physiologies (Halevy et al., 2006). This may results in various abnormalities like limb deformations, sudden death syndrome, ascites ( Julian, 1998; Baghbanzadeh and Decuypere, 2008) and femoral head necrosis (Bessei, 2006).
Rapid growth rates are the result of genetic selection which contributes about 50-60% and nutritional improvements contributes 20-25% respectively however remainder is the result of better husbandry practices (Pollock, 1999). Non-specific factors influencing the growth rate include breed, age, gender and age of parent flock (Cangar et al., 2008). Fast growing breeds can be used also in free range systems nevertheless they perform better in the controlled environment house (Jones et al., 2007). It is noticed that the fast growers when reared in free range systems exhibits less metabolic impairments when contrasted with conventional systems but there is a delay in achieving proper market weight (Fanatico et al., 2008). The possible remedy to control fast growth rates without compromising the welfare of birds could be attained by five or six week of grow out period (Robins and Phillips, 2011).
- Quality and quantity of feed and water:
Chickens are provided with 24 hours supply of feed and clean water though the practice may vary among different producers i.e. to provide feed at different intervals which may aid to enhance bone strength and digestion to prevent extra fat deposition (Petek et al., 2005). Feed restriction is not allowed in EU on welfare grounds excpt the broiler breeders, however it is under practice in the USA (Mench, 2002). The first week after the placement of chickens are considered as crucial regarding growth related welfare issues before the completion of growing phase (Sandiland et al., 2006).
The welfare criteria of good feed practices could be observed by the absence of prolonged hunger and thirst, whilst the measuring parameters for both of the indicators are:
- Absence of Thirst:
On farm: Availability of adequate water at any time, drinker alarms, drinker space and height of drinkers
Slaughtering: Water withdrawal time, journey times and level of dehydration in carcasses.
- Absence of hunger:
On farm: Stocking density, incidence of cannibalism, feed allowance, feeder space, placement of resources and feeder alarms
Slaughtering: Feed withdrawal time, journey time and percentage of emaciated birds. (Butterworth et al., 2007)
Whilst the RSPCA welfare standards for the feeding of meat chickens indicate that, a wholesome diet should be fed to chickens which:
- Contends their nutritional requirement.
- Helps them maintaining good health.
- Is available to them all the time.
- Is suitable according to the breed
- A safe transportation and storage of feed should be maintained to avoid any infestation and contamination
- Feed derived from any avian or mammalian protein source is prohibited.
- Atleast 25mm of one sided or 16mm for the round feeders, space must be provided and should be accessible to each bird.
- The movement of chicken for food must not exceed more than 4 meters anywhere in the house
- Water should be tested on every six months interval to ensure the quality checks.
- The drinker space allowance must be provided as 1 bell drinker for 100 chickens, one nipple per 10 birds and one cup per 28 chickens
- Drinkers must be designed in a way to minimize the water loss up to maximum extent. (RSPCA, 2013)
- Thermoregulation and lighting:
Chickens are deprived of good thermoregulatory mechanism that is why are provided with additional heating from a persistent light source apart from the photo refractory needs (Robins and Phillips, 2011). The purpose of increased light intensity is to trigger activity for the healthy development of bones and muscles for the later growing phase where less intensified lighting regimes are practiced (Alvino et al., 2009).
As a standard procedure 8 hours lighting schemes with intensity of 5 lux are employed to support diurnal rhythms (Alvino et al., 2009). A research shows that chickens exhibits various activities under different light intensities like bright lit areas support chickens to perform their activities more actively whilst resting behaviors has been observed under dim areas (RSPCA, 2013).
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