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Welfare groups hand in 350,000 signatures to Tesco demanding change for chickens

14 June 2019, at 10:25am

Urgent action needed as Tesco spends more than £370 million on intensively reared chicken meat each year, putting millions of birds at risk of suffering, said petitioners.

The RSPCA handed over 350,000 signatures to Tesco bosses at its AGM, demanding the supermarket urgently improves the welfare of its meat chickens.

Tesco is the largest retailer of intensively reared indoor chicken, spending more than £370 million on such chickens each year. Welfare groups have real concerns about the welfare of intensively-reared birds, genetically selected to grow fast contributing to serious health and welfare issues and often kept in conditions where they barely have space to stretch their wings freely.

350,000 people signed the petition
350,000 people signed the petition

© RSPCA

The RSPCA, joined by welfare group Open Cages, handed in more than 354,000 signatures tomorrow from animal-loving shoppers to Tesco bosses and shareholders. The powerful number of signatures have been collected through an RSPCA Change.org petition, a Care2 petition and an Open Cages petition.

Claire Williams, campaign manager at the RSPCA who will be visiting the Tesco AGM, said: “Tesco has by far the biggest market share of ‘intensively reared’ chicken meat, and it’s their duty to ensure the animals were raised to good welfare standards. The potential difference they could make to animal welfare is enormous - why wouldn’t they listen to their customers and make this hugely positive change for animal welfare?

“At the moment, the majority of standard chicken meat sold in supermarkets is from specially selected breeds of bird that are chosen because they grow really fast, in the shortest time possible. Most of these birds are actually only 36 days old when they are killed for meat, but already weigh 2.2kg. Many often struggle to walk or stand, let alone use a perch, and they can suffer from severe heart defects. It’s a really concerning issue that most people wouldn’t know about, until now, but consumers are switching on to the welfare problems of these birds and they are demanding action.”

Recent polling showed 86 percent of shoppers expect supermarkets to ensure the chicken on its shelves are farmed to higher welfare standards, but the reality is very different.

Welfare groups believe that Tesco’s high spend on intensively reared meat does not reflect a lack of customer demand for high welfare products but instead reflects how Tesco promotes chicken and its failure to provide affordable higher welfare options across all cuts.

Modern broiler chickens reach harvest weight at 36-38 days; quick growth can lead to heart defects and leg weakness
Modern broiler chickens reach harvest weight at 36-38 days; quick growth can lead to heart defects and leg weakness

© RSPCA

Connor Jackson at Open Cages said: “'Shoppers are beginning to discover the true cost of the cheap chicken on our supermarket shelves, which is causing suffering to millions of birds every year. Tesco spends the most out of all retailers on intensively reared chicken and their customers expect better. Today we show Tesco that nearly 400,000 people say enough is enough: your customers want change.”

Welfare groups are concerned that intensively reared meat chickens are not given enough space to easily move around and be active and flap their wings freely. By the time they are fully grown, each bird is allocated less space than an egg-laying hen kept in a cage, and producers are not even legally required to provide the chickens with natural light.

The public who signed these petitions are demanding Tesco urgently raise its animal welfare standards by signing up to a Europe-wide initiative, known as the Better Chicken Commitment, which is being championed by the RSPCA and other welfare groups. By signing the commitment, the country’s largest retailer would improve the lives of almost 380 million meat chickens every year. Currently, both M&S and Waitrose have already pledged to join this crucial welfare initiative.

Claire added: “M&S and Waitrose have already signed up to the Better Chicken Commitment - it’s high time Tesco did too. By signing up to the Better Chicken Commitment, supermarkets would be raising the basic level of chicken welfare, which includes not using these fast-growing breeds anymore. While it’s not as beneficial for their welfare as if they were to sign up to a higher welfare scheme like RSPCA Assured, it is still a step in the right direction.

“Sadly, we’ve seen that some supermarkets attempt to reassure concerned shoppers who write to them of their ‘good animal welfare,’ by referencing things like farm assurance standards, the number of yearly inspections, and their work with industry bodies. But shoppers should know that while this sounds reassuring, this does not always mean that animal welfare is any different than the industry standard, or sometimes any more than the legal minimum.

"For example, providing perches, other types of enrichment and even free-ranging is not that meaningful if the birds themselves are growing too quickly and can have difficulty walking by the end of their lives or are physically unable to use the enrichment. One supermarket even states that without any supporting science or evidence that the Better Chicken Commitment would deliver them a more ‘sustainable, healthy and affordable’ option, they would be unlikely to sign up - which sadly, shows that animal welfare doesn’t appear to be on their list of priorities.

"We hope this petition demonstrates to them that this is a serious and important issue for the public.”

The RSPCA is using research and harnessing consumer support with the aim of a significant and long-lasting change from supermarkets for the better for meat chickens.

Though the petition is being handed in to Tesco tomorrow, members of the public can still get involved and give their voice to the campaign by emailing Tesco or other retailers by visiting the RSPCA's website.