Members “make every effort” to minimise hock marking – BPC

Members “make every effort” to minimise hock marking – BPC

The British Poultry Council (BPC) has responded to reports by wider media of hock burn found on supermarket chickens, underlining its members commitment to high animal welfare.

chicken legs
Hock burn can usually be identified on poultry meat as a dark mark on the back of the leg.

An article by the BBC has claimed that “millions” of supermarket chickens have shown signs of ‘hock burn’, as a result of animals living in their own waste. It can usually be identified on poultry meat as a dark mark on the back of the leg.

The meat of hock burn chicken is considered safe to eat; however, it is considered by some to be a sign of potential animal welfare issues.

According to the BBC, 10 of the UK’s biggest supermarkets were approached as part of the study. The research alleged that Co-op and Aldi had the highest rates of occurrence, whilst five other retailers did not release data.

It is reported that, as part of the investigation, animal welfare campaigners Open Cages were also involved, carrying out so called spot checks in supermarkets.

Between September and November last year, members of the group claim to have checked over 500 whole chickens across 22 Lidl stores. Over 70% of the chickens examined were found to have hock burn ulcers, according to the BBC.

Potential to mislead

“It is very difficult to comment on research we have not seen,” said a spokesperson for the BPC. “Drawing comparison between formal inspection and rigorous procedure versus a shop shelf experiment has potential to mislead and misinform.”

They continued: “Around 95% of the birds produced in the UK are reared indoors, or ‘intensively,’ because it is the lowest impact way of producing food people trust and value. Safe, affordable and nutritious poultry is half the meat the nation eats, so we take our animal welfare responsibilities seriously. This includes BPC members making every effort to minimise the occurrence of hock marking. A clean, dry environment, friable litter, and good husbandry are all methods of controlling it.

“Where hock marking does occur, it is used as an indicator to identify areas for improvement because ours is an industry that operates to science-based standards, prioritises investment in research and development, and keeps pace with innovation.

“BPC members operate under Red Tractor Assurance, which goes beyond the legal baseline for animal welfare, and includes a standard for hock marking that should not normally exceed 15%. This is delivered by skilled farmers, stock people and vets with high levels of training and experience.”

Producers take preventative measures

A spokesperson for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) underlined that the health and welfare of their birds is “the number one priority for poultry farmers.”

They added: “In the UK we have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and producers take a number of measures to prevent hock marks. This includes providing a suitable environment for the birds to live in which is well ventilated and prevents any wet areas of bedding. Poultry farmers also provide enrichments such as hay bales and perches to encourage movement and natural behaviours.

“It is not the production system which determines an animal’s health and welfare, but the care from the farmer.”

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