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Chicken welfare shows gradual improvement

Businesses are making progress towards sourcing higher welfare chicken but need to move faster in switching to slower growing breeds and reducing stocking densities, according to a new report.

Compassion in World Farming’s second annual European ChickenTrack report measured company progress towards meeting the higher welfare requirements of the better chicken commitment (BCC). It showed a substantial increase in the proportion of businesses reporting on their plans to transition to higher welfare chicken, from 39% in 2022 to 65% in 2023, but found the majority of European companies are falling behind on two key areas: moving to slower growing breeds and reducing stocking density, both of which Compassion said are pivotal to delivering the full welfare benefits for chickens reared for meat.

A total of 85 companies were assessed, chosen for their geographic relevance, size and ‘chicken footprint’. The businesses span eight European countries and consist of producers, manufacturers, retailers, foodservice and hospitality businesses and restaurants. Of the total, 55 are now reporting on their progress, 21 for the first time including UK-based TGI Fridays and Premier Foods.

Compassion noted however than many major UK supermarkets are not yet signed up to the BCC with only M&S and Waitrose having made the pledge. Other retailers like Sainsbury’s, Co-op and Morrisons have made commitments to reduce the stocking density of their chicken to 30kg/m², however without breed change, Compassion said their chicken cannot be considered higher welfare. It also noted how some retailers are offering a tier of BCC-compliant chicken – such as Tesco’s ‘Room to Roam’ or Morrison’s ‘Space to Roam’, but these typically make up a small proportion of their full chicken offer.

Within the foodservice and hospitality sector, 14 companies were evaluated of which eight are reporting on their transition progress. Most sector-wide progress has been made on the BCC’s natural light and enrichment criteria, while least progress has been made on breed and stocking density.

Of the 23 restaurants evaluated, 15 reported on their transition progress. Progress has been strongest on the enrichment and CAS (controlled atmosphere stunning) slaughter criteria and weakest on breed transition.

Producer, Norsk Kylling, is the only company to have achieved 100% compliance in all of the BCC criteria, while six companies reported 100% compliance against at least one criterion – Danone,       Marks & Spencer, Monoprix, Nando’s, Schiever Distribution and Waitrose.

Compassion said that while having a public-facing commitment to the BCC is an important first step, road-mapping a route to successful implementation is vital. Currently only two companies, Quick in France and Italian producer Fileni, have made their roadmaps public. Signatories are being urged to develop yearly progress plans outlining actions and targets to reach 100% compliance.

“It is encouraging to see an increase in companies working to deliver on their commitments and reporting on their transition progress,” said Tracey Jones, global director for food business at Compassion. “Company sign-ups to the BCC are an essential first step to improving the lives of millions of chickens raised for meat. However, only when the full package of changes is made will chickens start to feel the benefits and the company can say its products are higher welfare.”

Chicken production has been under the microscope recently amid allegations of its contribution to pollution of the River Wye.