I’m hugely excited that M&S has become the first British retailer to join the movement for higher welfare chicken with their announcement today to introduce new welfare measures for all their chicken by 2026.
They join Unilever and Elior Group who have recently made similar welfare pledges to provide the chickens with more space and enrichment to enable them to perform important behaviours such as dust bathing, pecking, wing flapping and perching, as well as addressing the need for slower-growing breeds which are healthier and provide better quality meat.
M&S’s commitment to broiler welfare
By 2026, M&S has committed to introduce the enhanced welfare measures which importantly includes changing to a breed of bird with better welfare outcomes. This means every piece of chicken sold by M&S, be it fresh or as an ingredient in their ready meals, will meet the new standards.
M&S has said that these changes must be sustainable and that is why they will begin a series of trials in January, working closely with Compassion, to test the new standards and ensure they work. They want to do what’s right for their customers, their farmers and for their chickens.
M&S has traditionally been a leader in farm animal welfare. Earlier this year they received a Cage-Free Award from Compassion for taking the momentous step of ending the use of ALL cages in their supply chain (within 5 years) – a commitment that largely requires a transition to free farrowing systems in their continental speciality pig meat supply.
They were awarded the Best Retailer Award in 2013 for scoring top marks in Compassion’s Supermarket Survey, and have secured other awards from Compassion for their higher welfare commitments for pigs, chickens and dairy cows.
For the past two years M&S has also been ranked in ‘tier one’ of the global Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare for their higher welfare policies, practices and performance.
The plight of chickens needs to change
In Europe alone, seven billion chickens are reared for meat each year, 90% of which live in intensive farming systems where they are confined in overcrowded barns, with little or no natural light, and bred to grow so fast they suffer serious health problems.
Chickens are not just commodities, they are sentient beings and it’s crucial to give them a good quality of life where they can experience happiness and joy and behave as chickens should.
The ripple effect
I’m delighted by the commitment M&S has made today. It demonstrates not only an understanding of the welfare issues associated with chicken production, but also a real positive will to do something about them.
In recent months we’ve seen a resurgence in broiler welfare commitments by many big food companies across the US - a wave of action which is now hitting our shores.
I admire M&S’s leadership and will encourage our Food Business team to work closely with them to support their higher welfare journey to fruition. We need more businesses to follow their lead to safeguard a better future for our chickens.