Morrisons has announced an improvement to animal welfare within its poultry supply chain, after committing to reducing stocking densities for all its own-label fresh chickens by 20%.
The move, which is due to be completed by November, will see it cut densities from the current level of 34.2kg/m² to 30kg/m² – the same level as mandated by the Better Chicken Commitment, though Morrisons, like most UK supermarkets, is yet to sign up to the industry-wide welfare scheme.
The industry standard density is 38kg/m², Morrisons said, with its reduction forming part of “steady” action by the retailer and its suppliers in recent years.
The switch would make it “easier for customers to make the positive choice to support higher standards of welfare whilst remaining competitive on price”, the supermarket added.
Currently, all of Morrisons’ fresh chicken is raised above Red Tractor standards. Morrisons was also the only retailer in Europe to ask its fresh chicken suppliers for their chickens to be born into the barn in which they were raised, avoiding handling and transport, it claimed.
As of May 2023, more than 90% of its fresh chicken suppliers fulfilled this criteria, representing “another step on from previous years”, it said.
“As British farming’s biggest direct supermarket customer, we care deeply about how our animals are grown and we are always looking at ways with our suppliers to improve standards,” said Morrisons technical and sustainability director Sophie Throup.
“That is why by the end of the year we will have lowered our stocking density, giving chickens more space as they grow,” she added.
“The changes we intend to make across all of our own brand fresh chicken will allow customers to make more positive choices when it comes to the products they purchase, as we continue our journey to improve welfare standards.”
Morrisons shoppers already have a choice of free-range or enhanced welfare chicken, including the retailer’s Space to Roam chicken, which launched in 2022.
The range of chicken is slower grown and already offers chickens more room to move around.
However, the retailer faced criticism from animal welfare campaigners at the time of the range’s launch due to its decision not to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment – a Europe-wide scheme backed by animal welfare groups that advocates a range of measures to improve bird welfare and raise baseline standards.
And despite the earlier criticism of Morrisons regarding its decision not to sign the BCC, its announcement on stocking densities was welcomed by campaigners this week, who adopted a far more conciliatory tone.
TV presenter and campaigner Chris Packham commended “step in the right direction from Morrisons”.
He added: I hope they will align with the whole Better Chicken Commitment in the future by also adopting slower growing breeds.”
Open Cages founder Connor Jackson, meanwhile, said: “Open Cages is committed to working for industry-wide adoption of the BCC in full. We are happy to see steps like this from Morrisons as part of that path.”
To date, only Waitrose and M&S have signed up to the commitment among major UK supermarkets.