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Businesses urged to meet higher chicken standards

The RSPCA is urging supermarkets and foodservice companies to follow Marks & Spencer’s lead and commit to new welfare requirements for chickens.

Last week, M&S became the first retailer to pledge to meet new welfare requirements for meat chickens across Europe, which have been drawn up by a partnership of animal protection groups including the RSPCA.

The commitments mark an agreement by over 20 welfare organisations across Europe over what the most pressing welfare concerns related to broiler production are, and how to best mitigate those concerns. The groups said that the new requirements represent the minimum that any European corporate policy addressing broiler production must achieve.

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 group is urging retailers and foodservice businesses across Europe to commit to raising welfare standards across their whole supply chain of chicken by 2026.

“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 as much progress as we hoped there would be,” said Sophie Elwes, farm animal welfare specialist at the RSPCA.

Elwes described M&S’s commitment to improving welfare as “a huge leap in the right direction” and called on other food businesses to follow suit. “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,” she 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.