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UK supermarkets lag behind on chicken welfare

A survey has found that UK supermarkets are lagging behind other food industry sectors on chicken welfare.

Major multiples in the UK are the most resistant to adopting meaningful improvements to poultry welfare standards and moving away from fast-growing breeds, according to welfare group The Humane League.

A survey has found that UK supermarkets are lagging behind other food industry sectors on chicken welfare. Photo: Hans Prinsen
A survey has found that UK supermarkets are lagging behind other food industry sectors on chicken welfare. Photo: Hans Prinsen

Only upmarket retailers Waitrose and Marks and Spencer have committed to the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC). In comparison, 100% of the top foodservice and meal kit companies, 70% of the leading manufacturers and ⅖ of the top restaurants have made the pledge.

Vicky Bond, Humane League managing director, noted the UK’s supermarket position was in stark contrast to French retailers, who have all committed to meeting the BCC criteria with some also specifying that at least 20% of their supply chain has access to the outdoors.

She said supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco tried to pride themselves on caring about consumers and animal welfare but were failing both and risked being left behind: “Historically, supermarkets have often been the first in the industry to implement measures to advance animal welfare. Now, they are lagging behind, with companies known for value prices like KFC and Greggs leading the way.

Higher chicken welfare is the future, and in dragging their heels, supermarkets are seriously out of step with the direction of the food industry and public sentiment.”

The report, “State of the Chicken Industry 2021” comes as naturalist and TV presenter Chris Packham’s petition calling on retailers to adopt the BCC, which has been supported by the RSPCA, Open Cages, Animal Equality and the Humane League, has reached more than 190,000 signatures. The presenter has been targeting Morrisons for failing to take more action on bird welfare.

But the British Retail Consortium’s director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie said retailers understood that consumers are concerned about the need for good animal welfare: “Supermarkets offer free range and organic chicken in addition to the standard range and are working hard to ensure all ranges are accessible and affordable. Our members work rigorously with trusted suppliers to ensure high welfare standards are upheld,” he told The Grocer.

Lidl and Coop both said they were committed to increasing high welfare and traceability standards throughout the supply chain. Coop said as part of a trial it would be moving its standard chicken line to BCC standards to “understand more about a slower growing breed of bird, if it can meet the needs of customers and how the commitment can be met while minimising the environmental impact.”