Are Brits Really Buying Into Organic

UK - A new Royal Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), poll shows the recent campaign on the plight of meat chickens reared in the UK each year - highlighted in programmes presented by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - has changed people's buying habits, but the reports validity and motive have already been brought into question.
calendar icon 3 March 2008
clock icon 5 minute read

The survey claims that an amazing 73 per cent of consumers now buy chickens that have had a better life, since recently learning about the poor conditions in which standard chickens are farmed.

However the British Poultry Council (BPC), which represents British chicken farmers and processors, has hotly challenged the RSPCA’s claims today that there had been a huge change in shoppers’ buying preferences for chicken.

"The RSPCA is misrepresenting the good standards already in place on British chicken farms to promote its own “Freedom Food” brand"
BPC Chief Executive, Peter Bradnock

BPC Chief Executive, Peter Bradnock said, ”The RSPCA conclusion from its own survey is misleading and is not being reflected in the marketplace. The RSPCA is misrepresenting the good standards already in place on British chicken farms to promote its own “Freedom Food” brand and is ignoring the fact that the major retailers are already selling British chickens reared to standards that exceed the “Freedom Food” requirements“.

According to the RSPCA, nearly three out of four people feel supermarkets should only sell higher welfare chicken such as Freedom Food, free-range or organic.

This result directly supports the RSPCA's January campaign asking people to sign a petition calling on supermarkets to sell only higher welfare chicken by 2010, and for shoppers to buy only birds labelled Freedom Food, free-range or organic.

So far some 53,000 people have signed the petition, but to date no retailer has publicly accepted the RSPCA's challenge and committed to only selling higher welfare chicken by the 2010 deadline.

The survey also revealed that 27 per cent of people said they are willing to pay an extra two pounds for higher welfare chicken, while 22 per cent said they are willing to pay an extra three pounds, and a staggering 90 per cent said they buy higher welfare chicken because they are concerned about how chickens are farmed - over and above their own health and taste

Almost 80 per cent said animal welfare is an important consideration when buying chicken, whilst 70 per cent of people say they usually buy higher welfare chicken.

In response, the BPC have said that British chickens sold in supermarkets are already reared to rigorous Red Tractor Chicken Assurance standards, which cover both indoor and free-range chickens. These Standards are owned and managed independently from the chicken industry, and every farm is inspected at least once every year by independent auditors.

They say that the Red Tractor Assured Chicken Standards are more comprehensive than the RSPCA “Freedom Food” brand requirements ensuring high levels of farm hygiene and food safety for consumers, as well as providing a protective environment for the chickens to be able to express their natural behaviors.

Commenting further, Mr Bradnock said: “The RSPCA’s claims about a sudden amazing change in shoppers’ behaviour based on its own survey are not borne out by consumers’ actual buying decisions in supermarkets. Free range chicken sales under Red Tractor standards had been increasing consistently throughout last year, long before the Channel 4 celebrity chefs’ entertainment programmes screened in January this year “.

According to the BPC January 2008 sales for free range have shown a 35% increase on January 2007 but only an 11% increase on November 2007, showing there was already a significant growth trend. However, free range chicken sales, at just 6% of total UK chicken sales are still only a small, albeit growing, part of the national shoppers’ buying preferences.

New RSPCA Good Chicken Guide

The RSPCA say that Whilst these results show the campaign has been successful, they are concerned that because of a lack of clear labelling and confusing claims made by some supermarkets, many shoppers are still not sure what is and isn't higher welfare chicken.

In response the RSPCA has launched an online Good Chicken Guide to spell out which chickens have had a better life and where to buy them.

RSPCA farm animal scientist Dr Marc Cooper said: "The results of our poll are extremely encouraging and show that the campaign has begun to make a real difference with shoppers. However, in reality we know that there is not enough higher welfare chicken available to meet the demands of the 70 per cent of people in our poll who claim to buy it.

Further Reading

More information - Find Out More About the RSPCA Good Chicken Guide by clicking here.
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