Compassion has stripped The Co-op of its Good Chicken Award, after the supermarket went back on its promise to exclusively source higher welfare chicken meat for its indoor-reared chicken.
The company will now be selling chicken from indoor farms with higher stocking densities, meaning that more birds will be packed into the same space.
Dr Tracey Jones, Compassion's Director of Food Business, says, "The Co-op has traditionally been a leader in higher animal welfare but in this case we're left with no choice but to withdraw its Good Chicken Award. We cannot ignore that the company is now reneging on the promises it made in 2010."
Tracey adds: "Approximately 900 million chickens are reared for meat in the UK each year and a staggering 86 million are wasted - that's almost 10%. It's crazy then to think we cannot afford to provide them with a little more space and give them a little more freedom of movement to benefit their short lives.
"Chicken meat has become so much of a commodity it is difficult to connect it with the living animal and the cheap price has eroded our ethical value of its life. It's time to reconnect people with the broiler chicken and to increase the demand for sustainable higher welfare chicken meat from food companies. By paying a little more, by eating less and wasting less, meat can be produced to higher welfare standards, which is affordable for all."
The Co-operative's decision on chicken welfare
Compassion awarded The Co-operative Food (UK) a Good Chicken Award in 2010, for its commitment to improved welfare conditions for nearly 50 million broiler chickens every year.
In March 2014, The Co-operative confirmed they are changing the welfare standards of the chickens they sell. In a nutshell, they are moving from higher welfare indoor conditions to a type of 'standard intensive' production. These changes mean that we have had to strip them of their Good Chicken Award.
What does it mean for the Chickens?
The Co-operative has increased the stocking density for its indoor chickens from 30kg/m2 (the maximum permitted to be eligible for a Good Chicken Award) to 34kg/m2. In practice, this means cramming an extra two birds into every m2, equivalent to increasing the number of birds from 15 to 17 per m2. It doesn't sound like a big difference, but if they are given more space, the chickens will use it.
Compassion believes that all chickens raised for meat should be reared in higher welfare systems that allow them to express their natural behaviours - having enough space to move, as well as natural light and substrates to peck and perch on. Access to the outdoors is also important and is our ultimate goal for all chickens.
Our Awards are a mechanism to reward those companies that raise their standards of production throughout their supply chain and improve the lives of millions of animals, while we push for a fundamental change to our food and farming systems.
How does that compare to other Supermarkets?
Even with this increased stocking density, The Co-operative chickens are not as crammed in as those reared for many other supermarkets. Typically, 'standard' British chickens have considerably less space, at 38kg/m2 or 19 birds/m2 - equivalent to the Red Tractor Standard.
The Co-operative's decision means they fall short of those retailers that have won the Good Chicken Award and who are continuing their commitment to improved chicken welfare standards.
What can I do?
The Co-operative is letting down the chickens, and its customers. Previously shoppers could have confidence that all its fresh and frozen chicken was from higher welfare systems - with this reversal in its standards, the only choice of higher welfare chicken in its stores now will be either RSCPA Freedom Food or free-range chicken, which is a much smaller proportion of their offer.