New research from RSPCA Assured reveals “a huge double standard” in the way shoppers regard chickens that lay eggs and chickens farmed for their meat.
According to the survey 60% of people always buy cage-free eggs, but only 33% say they always buy ethical chicken meat, such as RSPCA Assured, free range and organic. This is despite 86% of respondents saying they think all the chicken we eat should come from farms using ethical welfare standards.
Clive Brazier, chief executive of RSPCA Assured, says: “When it comes to choosing what chicken to roast or where to have fried chicken, we seem to forget our ethics.
“Yet we’re talking about one species of animal. You wouldn’t treat a Labrador differently to a poodle, so why are we putting the welfare of a chicken that lays eggs before a chicken farmed for meat?”
Consumer pressure has brought about a revolution in the UK egg industry with cage-free (barn, free range and organic) production accounting for 52% of eggs in 2016. Ethical meat chicken production – RSPCA Assured, free range and organic – lags behind and only accounts for a minority of birds reared for the table.
RSPCA scientist Sophie Elwes says consumers aren’t entirely to blame She says: “With eggs it’s easy – by law they have to state whether they come from hens in cages and many supermarkets have actually stopped selling eggs from cages altogether.
“But meat chicken labels are a minefield. Claims made on packaging and dubious ‘farm name’ brands can mislead people into thinking the chicken they are buying is higher welfare when it’s not.”
Price is also a significant factor, says Sophie. “The difference between the cost of eggs from caged birds and free range birds is usually a matter of pence but with meat chicken the difference can be quite a bit more.
“However, when you think an RSPCA Assured chicken costs about the same price as a couple of High Street coffees, it sounds much more affordable and a small price to pay for better welfare.”
The RSPCA says most chickens farmed for meat are kept in conditions which don’t meet all their needs. Examples it gives include cases where birds:
- Don’t have enough space to move around freely
- Are bred to grow so fast that they can struggle to walk around and can develop heart failure
- Are given nothing to peck at and perch on
- Don’t have to be given any natural light
RSPCA welfare standards for chickens, used by farmers under the RSPCA Assured scheme, apply from hatching to slaughter, including when birds are transported.