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Sainsbury’s backtracks on chicken welfare commitment

Sainsbury’s has formally withdrawn from the Good Chicken Award, which recognises companies that have committed to use higher welfare chicken. The move has raised concerns that animal welfare is “slipping down the agenda” in the UK.

Sainsbury’s was amongst the first supermarkets to receive the award in 2010. The company committed to provide more space for chickens to live (moving from a stocking density of 38kg/m² down to 30kg/m²), natural light and enrichment such as straw bales for the birds to peck at and perch on. There was also a promise to move to a slower growing breed.

The chain made no secret of its efforts, publicising the fact that it sold more RSPCA Assured (previously Freedom-Food approved) chicken than any other retailer.

However, eight years on and less than 20% of Sainsbury’s fresh chicken is reportedly reared to higher welfare standards. Most of the chicken it sells is still standard chicken with the “associated welfare issues”, said Compassion in World Farming, which runs the Good Chicken Award.

In a statement, CIWF suggested Sainsbury’s might be turning its back on the commitments to save money. “Higher welfare production may cost more but savings can be made – for example significantly fewer antibiotics are used when robust, slower growing breeds are reared, and there are fewer economic losses associated with meat quality issues.”

A spokesperson for the retailer said it was following a “different” and “more effective” approach to animal welfare. Last year, the supermarket was criticised for developing its own version of fair trade.

In February, the business benchmark on farm animal welfare showed that pressure from customers and clients has resulted in many more companies taking animal welfare seriously. The report also showed clear water between UK and US food companies in relation to animal welfare. CIWF urged others to stick to their pledges.

“For some years, the UK has been regarded as leading the way in higher animal welfare, but as leading UK retailers like Sainsbury’s backtrack on their welfare commitments, when so many US companies are advancing theirs, it shows that animal welfare could be slipping down the agenda this side of the pond.”