Marks & Spencer to improve chicken welfare standards

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has committed to raising welfare standards of broiler chickens as part of a new poultry welfare campaign. 

The recommendations, drawn up by a partnership of animal protection groups including the RSPCA and World Animal Protection, urge retailers and foodservice businesses across Europe to meet a number of requirements for frozen and processed chicken across their supply chain by 2026.

These include complying with all EU animal welfare laws and regulations regardless of the country of origin, the provision of extra living space by implementing a maximum stocking density of 30kg/m2 or less, and introducing improved environmental standards including the provision of at least 50 lux of light, including natural light, at least two metres of usable perch space, and no cage of multi-tier systems.

In a blog post, Steve McLean, head of agriculture and fisheries at M&S, said the retailer was committed to providing even more space in barns even though the its Oakham chickens “have more living space than standard supermarket chickens 34kg/m2 compared to an industry average of 38kg/m2)”.

“However, it is my responsibility to push the boundaries and test what can be achieved whilst at the same time delivering high quality, great value product for our customers,” he wrote.

“So, M&S has signed up and pledged our support. Under the campaign’s ‘ask’, we have committed to even more space in barns (a move to 30kg/m2) and to farming a new, higher welfare breed of bird by 2026.

“All other requirements (for example natural daylight, enriched environment, gas stunning and third-party auditing) are already met by Oakham standards. But we will go further and work with all our suppliers, not just our Oakham chicken suppliers, to ensure they can meet the ‘ask’ by 2026. This will mean every piece of chicken sold by M&S, be it fresh or as an ingredient, will meet the new standards called for by welfare organisations. We’ll report on progress annually.”

Sophie Elwes, farm animal welfare specialist at the RSPCA, said more meat chickens were 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,” said Elwes.

“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.”

She cautioned that retailers often cited ‘consumer choice’ and a range of price points when justifying the selling of chicken reared to lower-welfare standards, but asserted that this “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”.

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