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UK animal welfare groups applaud M&S for its higher welfare Oakham Gold chicken

Key animal welfare groups like Compassion in World Farming and the RSPCA are applauding UK supermarket chain Marks & Spencer for leading the way on poultry welfare with its new Oakham Gold chicken.

6 July 2021, at 8:00am

Compassion in World Farming has applauded Marks & Spencer for the roll out of its Oakham Gold chicken which meets all the higher welfare criteria of the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC).

M&S was the first retailer to sign up to the BCC in early 2018 and they are the first to start their transition in earnest by successfully securing a commercial deal with their supplier to convert all their current Oakham chicken to Oakham Gold, under the RSPCA Assured label, for 100% of their fresh supply by Autumn 2022 with their processed and ingredient chicken meeting the 2026 BCC deadline.

This landmark deal involves the gradual laying down of breeding flocks to deliver the 23.5 million meat chickens of the higher welfare, slower growing Hubbard breed needed for the M&S fresh supply.

Compassion praises M&S for leading the market for higher welfare chicken in the UK – in what constitutes one of the biggest shifts in chicken welfare for over a decade – by presenting them with their prestigious Special Recognition Award, as part of their 2021 Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards.

The RSPCA has now urged other supermarkets to follow suit - as new polling by Savanta ComRes for the charity reveals 69% of UK adults believe supermarkets should improve meat chicken welfare as part of their sustainability goals.

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: "We are delighted that M&S has made this fantastic commitment to animal welfare, which will make them the leading retailer in the UK on chicken welfare.

"By switching to RSPCA Assured, M&S can assure their customers that they are buying higher welfare chicken, reared to the RSPCA’s higher standards - throughout their entire range. It’s a landmark achievement for animal welfare and a formidable step from M&S, which we hope will set a leading example for others in the sector."

Currently, Waitrose is the only other British retailer to have signed up to the BCC, and although there has been great traction in the food service sector with major brands like KFC, Nando’s and Burger King signing up, transition and roll out is still slow to materialise.

For companies committed to introducing the new higher welfare standards for their chicken, time is ticking – much needs to be done to meet the 2026 deadline. Parent flocks need to be laid down and scaled-up, contracts need to be signed, product offerings may need to change, and the consumer needs to be brought on board.

Retailers, who dominate the sale of chicken in the UK, need to get on board with the BCC. All French retailers have signed up and in May, Carrefour Polska became the first retail chain in Poland to add their name to the list of BCC signatories, which is particularly significant as Poland is the largest producer of meat chickens in Europe.

The UK, which regards itself as a leader in animal welfare is in danger of rapidly falling behind the curve in Europe. The time is right to strengthen its position in the market and M&S is demonstrably leading the way.

Dr Tracey Jones, Director of Food Business at Compassion in World Farming said: “We congratulate M&S for the example they have set; the first retailer to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment, the first to start transitioning supply, and the first to roll out entry-tier product on shelf with their ‘Oakham Gold’ fresh chicken. M&S wholeheartedly deserve their Special Recognition Award from us this year!

“It is imperative that other retailers and more food service businesses follow their lead, not just by signing up to the BCC but by acting on it. Making commitments across the entire supply chain is a major step towards raising baseline standards, but only once concrete plans and contracts with suppliers are in place will the market truly move forwards and affect real change for chickens.”