Dutch poultry producers are phasing out cheap chicken as part of a new welfare and sustainability programme - but exports to the UK will not be affected.

The Netherlands is the UK’s biggest source of chicken imports, with 175,000 tonnes imported in 2012 [BPC]. Much of the chicken goes into budget lines, but the Dutch poultry industry plans to phase out a cheap, fast-growing broiler breed to improve hen welfare.

However, while the “chicken of tomorrow” project would make chicken production more expensive, suppliers producing for export markets were not covered by the commitment and would be able to continue using the current breed and welfare standards, said industry sources.

2 Sisters Food Group, which has worked on the project through its Dutch Storteboom division, said it did not expect chicken prices for UK customers to go up. “We don’t anticipate an impact in the short term on exported chicken from the Netherlands,” a spokesman said. “If anything, the impact is likely to be more at European level rather than at UK level.”

Dutch retailers and suppliers agreed to the project earlier this year, following pressure from NGOs. They are switching to a slower-growing breed of chicken, giving hens more daylight and reducing stocking density as well as working on cutting ammonia emissions and energy use. The new chicken breed will start being sold in Dutch retailers and discounters in 2015.

NFU chief poultry adviser Kelly Watson said the new Dutch standards would fall somewhere between the UK’s Red Tractor and Freedom Food standards.

“The Dutch are reacting to consumer needs as we do, and developing their standards accordingly,” she said. “This new tier will be more affordable than organic/free-range.”