Almost nine out of 10 shoppers want the UK’s major supermarkets to end their dependence on fast-growing chickens, according to new research by the RSPCA.
An online poll of 2,089 UK adults, undertaken by the animal welfare charity last month, revealed that 87% of shoppers expected supermarkets to ensure all the chicken meat they sold was farmed to higher welfare standards.
The survey also found that 79% of consumers believed animal welfare was important when deciding which meat products to buy, while two out of three people (66%) sometimes or always checked packaging on chicken products to see if it is higher welfare, the RSPCA said.
Meanwhile, seven out of 10 adults said a supermarket offering higher-welfare chicken would have an impact on where they chose to shop.
The survey comes as the RSPCA launches a new campaign urging shoppers to lobby supermarkets to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment – a series of improved animal welfare criteria for chickens that include more space, light and enrichment, in addition to the adoption of only slower-growing breeds.
To date, only Waitrose and M&S have signed up to the commitment. Some retailers such as the Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, have introduced slower-growing breeds as a small proportion of their wider chicken offering.
However, their reluctance to adopt this approach across their ranges – often citing cost pressures – has come under fire from animal welfare campaigners and led to protests at supermarket sites.
The RSPCA said its Better Chicken campaign aimed to help retailers meet the Better Chicken Commitment’s minimum broiler requirements by 2026. The campaign also aims to show the public how their purchasing decisions can make a difference to animal welfare.
It comes after a High Court legal challenge over the use of fast-growing breeds of chickens was dismissed last month, with the RSPCA describing it as “a huge missed opportunity to address the biggest issue for animal welfare in this country”.
The ruling – which found using fast-growing breeds were not unlawful – showed “there is a real disconnect between what the legal system and lawmakers think is acceptable compared to what the public thinks is acceptable when it comes to animal welfare”, said RSPCA campaigns manager Emily Harris.
“We know that 87% of the public expect supermarkets to ensure that all chicken meat they sell is farmed to higher welfare standards – even higher than the 86% of people who agreed with this back in 2018, showing that this is an issue the public has consistently cared about for many years,” she added.
“The RSPCA and our colleagues at RSPCA Assured work closely with retailers and so we wanted to create a helpful guide to make it as easy as possible for them to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment and improve animal welfare on a massive scale, meeting the desires of their customers.”
Harris added: “We cannot do that without the public’s support so we’re urging everyone to harness your purchasing power and tell supermarkets directly that we want to see higher-welfare chicken on supermarket shelves. Over one billion chickens are slaughtered for meat in the UK every year, so improving the lives of chickens will have a huge impact on farm animal welfare in one single stroke.”