M&S has committed to a huge improvement in chicken welfare

13.01.18 

Chickens on a healthy farm pecking corn © RSPCA

Today we're celebrating news that Marks and Spencer has committed to a huge improvement in chicken welfare, and we're urging other supermarkets and retailers to follow suit. 

More meat chickens are reared each year in the UK than any other land animal and a vast majority are kept in conditions which we think cause substantial suffering.

Raising welfare standards for meat chickens

Today M&S became the first retailer to pledge to meet welfare requirements for meat chickens across Europe, which have been drawn up by a partnership of animal protection groups including us.

The groups are urging retailers and food service businesses across Europe to commit to raising welfare standards across their whole supply chain of chicken by 2026. 

That means addressing the most pressing welfare concerns in meat chicken production – issues which we've long campaigned on.

These include using higher welfare breeds of chickens and providing natural light, enough room, enrichment – such as straw bales and vegetables to peck – and perching in house and humane methods of slaughter.

950 million chickens reared each year in the UK

Sophie Elwes, one of our farm animal welfare specialists, said:

More meat chickens are produced than any other terrestrial farm animal in the UK, with around 950 million reared each year. Globally, chicken is expected to become the largest meat sector in the world by 2020 as other countries also increase production.

But despite this rapidly growing demand, there has been little progress made in improving the welfare of the majority of chickens bred for their meat.

The scale of suffering within the meat chicken industry is substantial, including the use of fast-growing breeds which can contribute to painful conditions such as severe lameness and heart defects.

Little progress for chicken welfare in the past 10 years

This January it'll have been ten years since chicken welfare was highlighted by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but sadly there hasn’t been much progress as we hoped there would be.

She added:

Retailers can often 'justify' the selling of chicken reared to lower-welfare standards by citing that they're providing both 'consumer choice' and a range of price points. In fact this gives little choice to consumers on a budget, other than to purchase intensively reared chicken. Our polling shows that most shoppers expect all chicken on sale to be high welfare.

Recent polling shows that roughly eight out of ten people (86 percent) who buy chicken meat, expect the supermarkets to ensure that all chicken meat they sell is farmed to high welfare standard*.

Sophie Elwes added:

This move by M&S is a giant leap in the right direction for chickens and consumers, and we commend their decision to kickstart this movement and lead the field.

RSPCA Assured food from farms providing a better life for animals

Shoppers who care about chicken welfare can look for RSPCA Assured labelled products which are on sale in Sainsburys, Aldi, Co-op, Ocado and Lidl.

In order to have the RSPCA Assured label, farmers have to meet our strict welfare standards.

What else are we doing for animal welfare?

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*Opinion Poll carried out by Kantar TNS between 4th and 8th January 2018. Unweighted base of 1223 GB aged +16 adults and 1058 GB +16 chicken meat buyers.

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