Animal rights organisation Wakker Dier is taking legal action against food and product safety board NVWA in an effort to get more space for chickens raised on factory farms.
The organisation says the Netherlands has been breaking EU rules for more than 10 years and has also asked the European Commission to intervene.
Since 2007 no more than 33 kilos of broiler chickens (chickens being raised to be eaten) can be raised within a square kilometre – the equivalent of roughly 16 chickens. However, farmers can deviate from this if they adhere to minimum welfare standards and the death rate on chicken farms is low.
Wakker Dier says Dutch factory farms have been able to profit from the exemption, allowing them up to 21 chickens a square metre, because the NVWA does not monitor whether farms are meeting all the rules.
And, says the aid group, national figures show many farmers who make use of the exemption do have a higher death rate than permitted.
Although Dutch supermarkets have virtually stopped selling the very cheapest, fast-growing chickens, known as plofkip, they do still produce the meat for export.
The European food safety body EFSA recently recommended a further reduction in the number of chickens barns can hold. Its research suggests that health problems begin when more than five or six birds are kept per square metre.
The NVWA and farm ministry are now in talks about the regulations, Wakker Dier said. Nevertheless, legal action and Brussels intervention are merited because “the NVWA is very slow at dealing with these sorts of issues,” Wakker Dier’s Anne Hilhorst said.
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