While more than 330 companies in the UK and EU have committed to the Better Chicken Commitment – a rise of 38% from 2021 – just 2 of the UK’s supermarkets (Waitrose and Marks and Spencer) have signed up. At present, a sector breakdown shows 100% of leading food service and meal kit companies, 80% of manufacturers and 70% of restaurants have aligned with Better Chicken Commitment commitments, but only 20% of retailers and no hotels have signed up.
It argues that the UK is lagging behind other European countries with both French and Dutch retailers saying all their birds will be Better Chicken Commitment compliant by 2026, along with progress in Norway, Spain and Poland.
With the UK retail sector accounting for 65% of the country’s chicken supply, the report argues that if outstanding supermarkets signed up to the Better Chicken Commitment, then the percentage of UK chicken supply committed to the policy would leap from 28% to 89%.
The charity says pressure is also coming from the UK government. The Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has now said that implementing the Better Chicken Commitment is a priority for broiler chickens as part of its Animal Health and Welfare Pathway. Defra will fund farmers transitioning to the BCC.
In its report, the Humane League says some supermarkets are very close to meeting the Better Chicken Commitment’s 6 requirements, such as Sainsbury’s which has met all, except they have refused to change the breed of birds and are continuing to rely on fast-growing chickens.
“…an alternative exists. Supermarkets have the power and the money to stop this…”
Sean Gifford, MD at the Humane League UK, said the Better Chicken Commitment was the future: “The last year saw more iconic brands commit and even the government now endorses the policy. Yet new generations of chickens, born in their hundreds of millions, continue to endure gruelling hours and days in appalling pain, all while an alternative exists. Supermarkets have the power and the money to stop this…”
Both Greggs and Waitrose contributed to the report. Jake Pickering, Waitrose senior agriculture manager, said: “We want to continue to lead the way on farm animal welfare. It’s what our customers expect and what our farmers are passionate about. We owe farm animals a good life and this should be an ambition across the entire food sector.
“Customers expect high standards and we have proved we can offer good value for money while treating farmers and animals fairly. This isn’t just the case for our more premium products but across all our fresh, frozen and ingredient chicken,” he said.
The UK’s National Farmers’ Union commissioned 2 reports on the Better Chicken Commitment last year and concluded that in summary, the Better Chicken Commitment is a very expensive way to produce chicken (+18%) on farm costs, uses more water (+22%) and produces more greenhouse gases (+23%) without a demonstrable improvement in bird welfare.
Other supermarkets have taken different approaches. Morrison’s is working with its farmers to introduce the Redbro chicken into the UK at a lower stocking density. Tesco has been working with the RSPCA Assured Right to Roam range.