In 2010, Sainsbury’s received a Good Chicken Award from Compassion in World Farming for making the commitment to introduce higher welfare standards for all of their own brand fresh chicken, within five years.
At the time, there had been a lot of public noise about the welfare of chickens reared for meat. Compassion had worked with writer, broadcaster and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on the “Chicken Out!” campaign to encourage the promotion of free-range chicken and an end to intensive chicken farming.
Sainsbury’s took action and made the decision to upgrade the minimum welfare standard of all their fresh chicken to the RSPCA welfare mark – committing to give the chickens more space to live (a maximum stocking density of 30kg/m2, moving down from 38/m2), to provide natural light and enrichment, such as straw bales, for the birds to peck at and perch on, and to move to a slower growing, healthier breed of bird.
Sainsbury’s stated in 2010: "Animal welfare continues to be one of our customers’ top concerns. We've acted faster than any other retailer to increase the range and availability of higher welfare products at an affordable price."1
At the time, Sainsbury’s publicised their high welfare credentials widely in the national press, emphasising their animal welfare commitment to consumers.
That was then, this is now
Eight years on, less than 20% of the chicken Sainsbury’s sells is higher welfare – and now they have decided to abandon their welfare promise.
Specifically, Sainsbury’s has decided not to give chickens more space, and not to move to slower growing birds. Instead, they are focusing on welfare ‘outcomes’ for the fast-growing animals, such as reducing the incidence of ammonia burns caused by wet litter and cutting the level of Campylobacter infection2. However, this doesn’t address many of the welfare issues linked to a high stocking density and fast growth.
As a result, millions of chickens will continue to suffer in overcrowded sheds, growing so big and so fast that they may struggle to walk, can suffer serious heart conditions, and are unable to behave like chickens should.
Compassion expects a leading UK retailer like Sainsbury’s who thinks that treating animals well is ‘the right thing to do’3, and promises to source ‘with integrity’4, to be at the forefront of the growing movement for higher welfare chicken, and to practice what they preach.
At a time when there is increasing public interest in animal welfare and better food, and when so many other companies are bearing the costs to advance their welfare standards, it’s deeply disappointing to see the company that wants to be ‘the UK’s most trusted retailer’5 backtrack on their higher welfare promise.
Like any other business decision, animal welfare commitments should be made for the long term, embedded into a public facing policy and supported at all levels in the business to ensure they can be achieved. They should not depend on the economy of the day.
By not delivering on their welfare commitments – and in fact by completely withdrawing from them – Sainsbury’s is falling behind the curve and letting down both the chickens and their customers.
Please sign the open letter to Sainsbury’s. Tell them what you think of their broken promise.
For their failure to achieve their welfare promise to chickens, Compassion has publicly withdrawn Sainsbury’s Good Chicken Award.
This website is hosted by Compassion in World Farming, Registered Charity (England and Wales) No. 1095050.
2 https://www.about.sainsburys.co.uk/news/latest-news/2017/25-01-18-chicken-welfare & https://www.about.sainsburys.co.uk/making-a-difference/our-values/our-stories/2017/our-journey-with-chicken