Chicken About Welfare? Shame on Tesco

UK - Another wave of chicken welfare campaigns swept across the UK today as demonstrators hit Tesco Supermarkets in Ecclesall, Southey and Woodseats of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, writes Adam Anson, ThePoultrySite Reporter.
calendar icon 3 April 2008
clock icon 6 minute read
Compassion in World Farming campaigners outside a Tesco outlet.

Their message could be heard loud and clear, and - with the aid of a megaphone - down the road and round the corner too. "Shame", they chanted, "Shame, shame, shame on Tesco."

The Stop Being Rotten to Chickens campaign is part of a nationwide push by leading animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming, to stop Tesco selling eggs from caged hens and, at the same time, improve the current conditions of their meat chickens.

Eloise Shavelar, the campaign's officer, outside a Tesco's outlet in Berkely precinct, Sheffield, said that many of the nation's largest supermarket chains had taken it upon themselves to improve welfare standards in an ever more consumer conscious environment.

"Tesco competitors Sainsbury's and the Co-op are taking the welfare of chickens seriously by pledging to improve their standards for chicken and stop selling eggs from caged chickens." Yet Tesco's, she said, "was still refusing to budge."

Tesco's is the largest supermarket in the UK with a lions share of the market. According to Eloise this is one of the reasons why they have been specifically targeted. She said that the influential power of Tesco's could be used as a great force for good.

"Commitment from them will make a difference to the lives of millions of chickens." Her message doesn't only carry weight at home, she believes that the right decision could come at just the right time and help sweep the UK welfare movement onto foreign shores.

Affecting market pressure at this time could be crucial for the welfare of chickens. With the impending European ban on caged chickens due to come into force in 2012, much of the European industry is wondering if it will be able to implement the necessary practises to achieve this goal. There have been talks of allowing enriched cages once the ban takes effect. These enriched cages would include minor comforts such as a pecking bar, but as Eloise was quick to say: "At end of the day a cage is still a cage", and as if to prove a point she cites recent LayWel research that, she says, clearly shows that caged chickens suffer.

"Commitment from them will make a difference to the lives of millions of chickens."
Eloise Shavelar, CIWF campaign officer.

In response to the criticism, a Tesco spokesperson said that "intensive farming methods do not mean poor welfare if they are properly managed and ours are."

They say that their Teso welfare standards are "among the best in the world", claiming that all chicken whether fresh frozen or processed is "produced to the highest standards which are independently audited through more than 250 visits to farms each year."

But Eloise says the message of their campaign seems to have fallen on deaf ears. When asked how Tesco had responded to the campaign she said "they just keep coming back and saying that consumers aren't interested in chicken welfare". She adds that current research shows that this isn't true.

A couple of months ago a huge chicken welfare campaign was run by some of the nation's top celebrity chefs, broadcast on television as a series of programmes. Eloise says that this campaign had a "really positive effect". According to her, statistics from January have shown that the sale of free-range products have shot up dramatically in correlation with the campaign. She contributes the driving factor of this movement to the belief that "people just weren't aware of the condition that many chickens are reared in."

Tesco say that they have been working hard for a while to increase the amount of higher welfare chicken they sell. They say the recent debate over chickens in the media has helped raise awareness of the choice available to customers and that they have recently doubled their order for premium chicken – which means there is far more Free Range.

"This has brought the proportion of higher welfare chicken Tesco sells up to around 30 per cent of total chicken sales, an increase of 70 per cent compared to this time last year", said a company spokesperson.

"A large number of our customers are on a tight budget and rely on lower cost foods to feed their families. We believe it would be wrong to remove these options for them. Instead we will continue to offer a choice of chicken whilst explaining clearly the welfare and environmental benefits of each product so that customers can make an informed choice based on what is best for them and their budget."

The CIWF Tesco campaign tour was launched in Portsmouth on Tuesday 18 February. Since then local campaigners have distributed hundreds of Compassionate Shopping Guides in many different cities. Three radio stations also got involved in helping to spread the word to thousands of consumers.

The question Eloise wants the public to ask, is: "Is it sustainable to be selling a whole chicken for the price of a coffee shop drink, or a pint of beer" (Tesco currently retail chickens at £1.99) and also, is it really right?

There is a big demand for chicken meat in the UK at the moment and she accepts that not all people can afford to spend more money on food, but she says the solution is simply to "eat less and of higher welfare". She claims that spending just an extra 27 pence per serving will vastly improve the life of chickens

The Compassion for World Farming campaign is not yet over. Next month they will praise industry leaders with the Good Egg Awards, in which Eloise predicts Tesco will perform disappointingly. The crucial message they are aiming to give Tesco's is that "all these supermarkets are doing their bit, but you're not" she says. "You're a bad egg".

Further Reading

More information - You can view the campaign details by clicking here.
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