Under the new standards, which are being launched next week, chickens will be housed in barns with better lighting and be given perches, toys and pecker blocks. Despite these improvements, retail prices will remain the same.
Morrisons agriculture manager Louise Welsh said the retailer recognised many of its customers were concerned about the conditions chickens lived in and wanted to buy higher-welfare products, but could not afford to trade up to free-range or organic lines. According to research by the RSPCA, 70% of UK adults cite cost as a reason for not buying more higher-welfare food.
"That's why we have made the move to ensure that all of our standard chickens will enjoy higher-welfare living conditions," said Welsh.
Earlier this year, Morrisons commissioned researchers from the University of Bristol to study chicken behaviour in a bid to find out how content chickens are in different conditions and to identify practical ways of improving welfare without having to pass any extra cost onto the consumer. They watched 120,000 birds from birth and found chickens were more confident and active and had a greater general wellbeing when given access to 'activity objects', perches and daylight.
Based on these findings, Morrisons decided to move all its standard fresh chickens to a new welfare regime that would enable the birds to "live in barns containing windows, perches, straw bales and pecker blocks allowing the chickens to express their natural behaviour". The retailer added that it planned to commission more research to work out how it could improve the welfare of chickens even further.
Morrisons' standard chicken range accounts for 92% of its chicken sales, and equates to more than one million chickens a week.