Retailer Marks and Spencer has become the first UK supermarket to sell only slower-reared, higher-welfare fresh chicken to its customers through its Oakham Gold range.
The move follows a survey conducted by YouGov on the company’s behalf, which highlighted that 81% of UK adults think it is important that food retailers focus on the better treatment of farm animals.
In line with its Better Chicken Commitment, the retailer has moved to a Hubbard breed which will also benefit from higher welfare standards. These include a multigrain diet, which has been designed to support slower natural growth and muscle development, while also ensuring the best flavour for customers. As the birds are reared more slowly, they will be more resilient and robust, particularly to higher temperatures.
Birds will also have 20% more space alongside an enhanced environment, with more pecking aids and perches to encourage natural behaviours.
The company said the investment built on its animal welfare standards – the retailers offer more RSPCA Assured products than any other and was the first to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment, as well as being in tier one of the Compassion in World Farming annual Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare since 2013.
Martin Sweetland, Marks and Spencer Oakham Gold farmer, said he enjoyed rearing the birds: “They are much more inquisitive than other breeds, have more room to dust bath, perch and play with pecking objectives. Seeing them exhibit natural behaviours makes me proud to farm these birds, and I believe this translates into a more tasty bird.”
“…slower-reared, higher-welfare chicken offer better quality and better flavour.”
Andrew Clappen, Marks and Spencer food technical director, said the company wanted to keep raising the animal welfare bar for its chicken: “It’s something we know our customers care deeply about, and we do too. Improving animal welfare is an important part of our trusted value commitment – we are introducing slower-reared, higher-welfare chicken offering better quality and better flavour for our customers.
Mike Baker, RSPCA Assured CEO, said the company’s move to offer 100% slower-reared, RSPA Assured fresh chicken was “the biggest positive change to chicken farming in a generation. It’s a landmark achievement for animal welfare, which we hope will set a leading example for other retailers.”
Dr Tracey Jones, Compassion in World Farming global director of food business, welcomed the move: “The roll-out of their Oakham Gold fresh chicken is testament to their ongoing commitment to improving the lives of their chickens in their supply, by using more robust breeds that lead liger, healthier and more fulfilled lives. Making higher welfare chicken the baseline standard for consumers is a priority for Compassion, and we urge all retailers to follow their lead so that we can drive the market towards better chicken for all.”