Research Reveals Hen Smothering Affects Half UK Commercial Flocks

UK - More than half of commercial chicken flocks in the UK are affected by smothering and it is an unpredictable and difficult issue for farm managers to address.
calendar icon 18 August 2014
clock icon 5 minute read

These are some of the results of new research quantifying the impact of hen smothering in the UK, by McDonald’s UK.

The results have been unveiled this week as the fast food chain launches a major new TV advertising campaign to shine a light on the care taken by the British and Irish farmers that supply free-range eggs for its UK menu.

Funded by McDonald’s as part of its Farm Forward programme and undertaken by the Food Animal Initiative (FAI), together with McDonald’s suppliers, the research analysed the incidence, location, timing and management of hen smothering on a commercial scale. The results reveal for the first time that more than half of commercial flocks in the UK are affected by smothering and that it is an unpredictable and difficult issue for farm managers to address.

The research was commissioned amidst concerns from the egg industry around the frequency, economic and welfare impact of hen smothering in the UK. Smothering occurs when birds mass together, often on top of each other, which can result in death from suffocation.

Based on a survey of producers supplying two egg companies that supply McDonald’s and representing more than a third of the UK’s free-range egg supply, the findings identified two measures currently in use by farm managers for tackling the issue: blocking off corners within nest boxes and encouraging birds to walk around more frequently.

Since becoming one of the first high street restaurant chains to work with its suppliers to make the switch to free-range eggs over 15 years ago, the free-range egg market in the UK has quadrupled in size.

Today, farmers that supply McDonald’s are required to provide a minimum of five per cent tree cover on their ranges to provide shelter and shade whilst encouraging hens to roam away from the hen house, which contributes to an improvement in the welfare of the flock.

The new TV campaign, The Tree, shows this extra care taken by these farmers as an example of the care taken by all British and Irish farmers that supply McDonald’s menu with top quality ingredients.

The TV campaign forms part of a new, long-term integrated campaign from McDonald’s. Focusing on the reassuring, sometimes surprising stories about the positive impact the brand has, the campaign demonstrates that McDonald's is driven by what really matters to people - be they customers, employees, suppliers, farmers or the communities in over 1,200 restaurants across the UK they serve.

Connor McVeigh, Director of Supply Chain, McDonald’s UK, said: “Our customers tell us they want to enjoy top quality eggs, sourced from traceable farms with high standards of animal welfare in place.

“This is why we source free-range eggs for our UK menu from British and Irish farmers, many of which are independent and family owned businesses. To ensure we can keep buying these top quality ingredients, we need to focus on what matters to the farmers who supply us.

“Following our successful research with the FAI into the commercial benefits of range enrichment in 2008, we decided to turn our attention to hen smothering, which has long been a relatively untackled issued in this country.

“I’m pleased with the progress made and we’ll invest in a second phase of research to thoroughly explore the best on-farm solutions.”

Annie Rayner, Research Scientist at FAI, said: “This research is testament to the approach McDonald’s UK take in tackling real welfare issues head on.

“Producers had been highlighting that smothering was a growing concern but it had not been addressed in detail and was not a high profile issue in the UK.

“There are welfare and economic implications associated with smothering and so action was needed to understand the causes. McDonald’s UK should be commended on their ongoing commitment to improving standards within their supply chain.”

The free-range egg advert was shot in Penrith, Cumbria, and airs for the first time on Saturday 16 August.

The campaign also comprises of print, digital, PR and social media which will deliver a variety of messages across coming weeks, bringing to life McDonald’s understanding of ‘what matters to people’, from supporting community football initiatives to ensuring responsible food sourcing.

To support the campaign, McDonald’s has produced a short video to lift the lid on its free-range egg supply chain. Filmed at The Lakes Free Range Egg Company in Cumbria, the film reveals the supply chain of its eggs for consumers, tracing two McDonald’s employees as they make the journey from farm to restaurant. The video can be watched online.

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