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New poultry breed could help UK's Red Tractor assurance scheme deliver on sustainability goals

The Red Tractor assurance scheme hopes that new slow-growing poultry breed will help balance the economic, sustainability and welfare goals of UK chicken production.

23 August 2021, at 9:11am

Red Tractor is set to deliver a credible solution for the poultry industry, as it responds to the economic viability and sustainability challenges of moving to a higher welfare model for chicken production.

Supply chain costs associated with meeting the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) has often been cited as a barrier for its widespread adoption, which in turn can make it an unaffordable option for families.

Now, extensive research conducted by international industry experts, producers and key stakeholders in retail and foodservice has led to the higher welfare breed Hubbard Redbro being accepted by Red Tractor’s Enhanced Welfare chicken scheme.

The Enhanced Welfare module – which was launched by Red Tractor in 2020 – meets all the requirements of the BCC. It uses slower growing chicken breeds and requires more space, natural light and enrichment and is built upon the core Red Tractor standards which cover traceability, animal welfare and food safety. It delivers full supply chain assurance from parent stock, hatchery, catching, transport and slaughter.

Studies have found that the Hubbard Redbro, which is already on the BCC approved list, has higher welfare outcomes when compared with other breeds, used for indoor production. Crucially, research also showed that it has a lower feed conversion ratio compared with other slower growing breeds, meaning that it is a more economically viable and sustainable breed for farms of all sizes.

Red Tractor is the first UK assurance scheme to include the Hubbard Redbro bird on its approved breed list.

Red Tractor CEO Jim Moseley said: “Over 95% of chickens in the UK are Red Tractor assured, which puts us in a unique position to provide a sustainable solution for tackling industry challenges.

“We have worked with NGOs, farmers, vets, scientists, animal welfare and food production experts to deliver a robust process for evaluating breeds. This process has enabled Red Tractor to evaluate data from both commercial the broiler breed welfare assessment trials which demonstrated that the Hubbard Redbro was commensurate in welfare outcomes with breeds already on the BCC approved breeds lists.

“This process considered data from the broiler breed welfare assessment protocol, as well as commercial field trials, ensuring that the data that was evaluated came from a broad spectrum of assessments.

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“As the only UK assurance scheme that aligns with the BCC, our decision to include the Hubbard Redbro on our Enhanced Welfare module breeder lists, is an important step forward for the poultry industry. Its’ superior environmental and economic credentials will be a boon for food businesses seeking to meet the requirements of the BCC.”

Evaluating the Hubbard Redbro

Red Tractor has developed a process for evaluating breeds which has incorporated inputs from independent experts, genetics companies, food production experts and Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). These inputs incorporated substantial data from an independent broiler breed welfare assessment trial, commercial trial results and a range of assessments. This ensured that comprehensive and robust data was provided to the Technical Advisory Committee, which comprises of sector experts.

Cross-referencing all the available data, has ensured that the process is robust and meaningful. The data repeatedly demonstrated that the Hubbard Redbro was equal in welfare outcomes with breeds already on the list of approved breeds by the BCC and has, therefore, been approved by the Red Tractor Poultry Board which oversees the governance and integrity of the standards.

The Hubbard Redbro breed was found to be more efficient in converting feed into live weight and meat, and therefore, requires less feed than other slower growing breeds on the list to reach the finished weight and desired specification. This helps reduce reliance on environmentally damaging inputs such as soy and so boasts a significantly smaller carbon footprint.

Global Director of Food Business at Compassion in World Farming Dr Tracey Jones said: “We are delighted that the Hubbard Redbro has been accepted under the Red Tractor Enhanced Welfare module. This intermediate growth rate bird has gone through a rigorous approval process, aligned to the BCC, and will undoubtedly help move the market for higher welfare chicken forwards.

“Having another commercially viable breed approved with good welfare outcomes is an important enabler for companies who have signed up to the BCC and wish to use Red Tractor as their third-party auditor for higher welfare indoor production.”