The Co-op has been stripped of its Good Chicken Award by CIWF

The Co-operative Food’s ethical credentials have been dealt a blow after the retailer was stripped of a major chicken welfare award because it increased the stocking density on its chickens .

Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) said it was withdrawing its Good Chicken Award from The Co-op because it recently allowed suppliers of its standard own-label fresh chicken to increase stocking density from 30kg to 34kg per square metre.

The Co-op claimed the move would help make British chicken affordable to more households, but CIWF said “driving down costs through further intensification of farming systems is not the way forward, and the animals are paying the price”.

“We cannot ignore that the company is now reneging on the criteria for our Good Chicken Award and feel that sadly we have no choice but to withdraw it”

Tracey Jones, CIWF

It said its award allowed a stocking density of no more than 30kg per square metre, adding The Co-op had committed to this level “in perpetuity” back in 2010.

“We’re very disappointed that The Co-operative has taken this step,” said CIWF director of food business Tracey Jones. “We have had a long and productive relationship with them and they have traditionally been a leader on the animal welfare agenda in the food industry.

“However, we cannot ignore that the company is now reneging on the criteria for our Good Chicken Award and feel that sadly we have no choice but to withdraw it.”

But a spokeswoman for The Co-op said shoppers wanted food that was both responsibly sourced and competitively priced. “We have therefore taken steps to maintain the right approach to sourcing while making British chicken available to more people at better value.”

She added the new stocking density of 34kg “will mean our birds still enjoy lower stocking densities than required for Red Tractor Farm Assurance or offered by the big four supermarkets on equivalent ranges”.

“We continue to provide customers with choice through our Truly Irresistible Free Range Freedom Food Chicken in line with demand, and we are also working to strengthen relationships with British farmers, through our Chicken Farming Group, and are focused together on providing shoppers with a consistent and transparent supply chain.”

The Co-op’s move to allow greater stocking density comes as an investigation by the Sunday Herald last week claimed supermarket pressure for cheap poultry was driving up stocking densities across the poultry sector.

Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer continue to hold Good Chicken Awards from CIWF, and the group said it was constantly engaging with retailers on their award commitments. But it warned: “Should another retailer make a similar decision on increasing stocking density (and therefore not meeting the criteria for the Good Chicken Award) we would need to publicly withdraw their award.”