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Supermarkets Urged to Go for Slow-Growing Broilers

by 5m Editor
7 May 2010, at 7:20a.m.

UK - In a long campaign to raise the wealre standards of broilers, Freedom Foods has started a campaign to get supermarkets to sell slower-growing chickens.

On 22 April, the Freedom Foods group of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) wrote to all UK supermarkets urging them to ditch faster-growing breeds of chicken labelled 'standard' and 'standard plus' in favour of a slower-growing alternative.

Freedom Foods says this is one of the final major hurdles to overcome in dramatically improving the lives of chickens bred for meat, and comes hot on the heels of new research which reveals that shoppers are also choosing to ditch 'standard' chicken.

The research, carried out by Kantar Worldpanel for RSPCA Freedom Food, shows that spend and growth on Freedom Food indoor-reared chicken is far exceeding 'standard' chicken – proof that chicken welfare is still on the shopping list of even the most budget-conscious consumers.

RSPCA senior chicken welfare scientist, Dr Marc Cooper, said: "It's great news that people are supporting better chicken welfare by choosing more Freedom Food over standard chicken than ever.

"We've seen an incredible commitment from supermarkets like Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons to improving the lives of chickens, by offering their customers a higher welfare option in Freedom Food."

Faster-growing breeds of chicken are most commonly used in 'standard' and so-called 'standard plus' production. These birds reach slaughter weight in around six weeks and are dogged with significant health and welfare problems. These include:

  • High growth rate can lead to lameness, heart and circulation problems, and cause sudden death due to heart attacks.
  • While 'standard plus' chickens are often provided with natural light, environmental enrichment and more space compared to 'standard' chicken, these on-farm improvements do not make up for the real welfare benefits of the RSPCA welfare standards used by Freedom Food.
  • In total, there are around 600 RSPCA standards specifically developed for chickens to improve welfare across the whole of their life – from hatching to transport and slaughter, rather than just covering the time spent on-farm.

Dr Cooper added: "There is still a way to go in our mission to see improvements for the vast majority of chickens reared for meat in this country.

"That is why we are asking all UK supermarkets to take the next vital step and commit to only using a genetically slower-growing breed for all chicken, in line with the requirement that already exists under the Freedom Food scheme.

"Science and practical experience clearly demonstrate that this would lead to an even greater improvement in the welfare of many millions of chickens."