RSPCA ask supermarkets to join M&S in commitment to improve chicken welfare

The RSPCA celebrated on Saturday the news that Marks & Spencer has committed to a huge improvement in chicken welfare and is urging other supermarkets and retailers to follow suit.
calendar icon 15 January 2018
clock icon 4 minute read

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

On Saturday, 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 the RSPCA

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 on which the RSPCA has long campaigned. 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.

"The scale of suffering within the meat chicken industry is substantial..."

Sophie Elwes, farm animal welfare specialist, at the RSPCA 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.

“This January it will have been 10 years since chicken welfare was highlighted by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and, sadly, there hasn’t been much progress as we hoped there would be.”

"... people who buy chicken meat expect the supermarkets to ensure that all chicken meat they sell is farmed to a high welfare standard."

She added: “Retailers can often ‘justify’ the selling of chicken reared to lower-welfare standards by citing they are providing both ‘consumer choice’ and a range of price points, which in fact gives little choice to consumers on a budget other than to purchase intensively-reared chicken and our polling shows that most shoppers expect all chicken on sale to be high welfare.”

Recent polling shows that 8 out of 10 people (86%) 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.”

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. Find your nearest stockist here.

In order to have the RSPCA Assured label farmers have to meet the RSPCA’s strict welfare standards.

*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.

The press release refers to the following programmes: Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall “Hugh’s Chicken Run” - 2008, and Jamie Oliver “Fowl Dinners” 2008.

The european meat chicken welfare ask and its signatories are detailed at:

As reported by the RSPCA.

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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