Last updated: April 2016
Farm Animal Welfare in Supermarkets
Compassion in World Farming examines the business case for higher animal welfare and outlines its ground-breaking work to get better food on your supermarket shelf.
Downward pressure on prices, upward pressure on ethics
The horsemeat scandal which erupted in 2013 was seen by many as the inevitable culmination of a business model that’s become overly complex, secretive, even untrustworthy.
A critical driver of this is the race to the bottom on prices. Producers that are constantly pushed to deliver their product at near or below cost price are in a perilous position, and this could easily lead to the next food scandal. Squeezing producers, which is most evident in the retail cost of milk and chicken, may be good for shoppers in the short term, but it will undermine attempts to develop a sustainable food system that we can be proud of and that delivers on animal welfare.
The “supermarket price wars” – a period of ferocious competition that kicked off during the recession, when it was widely believed that consumers were motivated by money, and money alone – are still raging. With more established brands battling the rise of discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl, these ‘wars’ are an ongoing cause for concern.
But the reality isn’t all bad.
While these price wars have been raging, another business model has been gathering pace, and it focuses on ethics and food quality, rather than bargain-basement prices, to secure a loyal customer base. That’s where the Food Business team at Compassion comes in.
The tools of our trade
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) help businesses to find practical ways to raise farming standards across their product ranges. We have a range of tools at our disposal, but one of the most powerful is the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) which includes an annual review of how 90 of the world’s leading food companies are managing and reporting their farm animal welfare policies and practices.
This section was written by CIWF. More information on how you can get involved with CIWF.
So, how do supermarkets compare on animal welfare?
The BBFAW 2015 report was compiled in collaboration with leading animal welfare organisations Compassion in World Farming and World Animal Protection, and investment firm, Coller Capital. It reveals that companies are generally increasing the importance they attach to farm animal welfare.
All the supermarkets have improved or maintained position year on year with the exception of Morrisons which is the only supermarket over the four years of reporting to have dropped a tier.
The Co-op has been consistently good from the start and was the best supermarket in the first year of analysis.
M&S was the quickest supermarket to make significant progress and then maintained it, and was the only top rated supermarket in 2013.
Waitrose also made significant progress a year later than M&S and has maintained it.
Sainsbury’s initially progressed and is now maintaining its position.
All the supermarkets in our product guide get our worst rating in our Factory Farming and Animal Rights categories because they all sell animal products from factory-farmed animals, be it non-free range or organic meat, poultry, dairy, eggs or fish. However, differences can be seen in their stated policies and practices. And some supermarkets sell more free range or organic products than others.
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The same three names rise to the top – Waitrose, M&S and The Co-op – as being the supermarkets doing the most to stock animal products from animals raised under better welfare standards.
Whether you eat meat or not, you can choose to buy your food from a supermarket which is doing more than others to improve animal welfare.
Red Tractor and ‘standard’ chicken have the same sort of ‘intensive’ stocking densities (38-42 kg/m2) and standards including lack of ‘enrichment’ and birds kept in sheds on litter without natural light. Intensively-reared chickens are normally housed in groups of up to 40,000 in a large shed.
RSPCA Freedom Food Indoor and Higher Welfare Indoor chickens are kept indoors and stocked at not more than 30 kg/m2 and natural light and enrichment is required.
RSPCA Freedom Food Free Range, Free Range or Organic are the better assurance labels. All birds must have access to the outdoors during the day. Organic farms having the smallest stocking densities (as little as 21 kg/m2), giving birds at least twice as much space as intensively-reared chickens. Soil Association organic is the highest welfare standard with a maximum flock size of 1,000 birds.
What the supermarkets sell
None of the supermarkets sold just free range or organic chicken. The best supermarkets were Waitrose followed by M&S and then The Co-op.
- Waitrose – all its Waitrose Essential basic range of chicken is Higher Welfare Indoor where the chickens are kept indoors but with more space (not more than 30 kg/m2), natural light and enrichments like straw bales and perches. The rest of the chicken it sells is either free range or organic.
- M&S – the majority of chicken is M&S Oakham which is stocked at not more than 34 kg/m2, natural light and enrichment required. The rest of the chicken it sells is either free range or organic.
- The Co-op – the majority of chicken is stocked at not more than 34kg/m2, natural light and enrichment required. The rest is either RSPCA Freedom Food Indoor or free range.
The majority of the chicken sold by the other supermarkets was Red Tractor or ‘standard’ chicken.
Good eggs and bad eggs
Battery cages were made illegal in the EU in 2012 but the ‘enriched cage’ system, which is permitted, is little better. Hens have slightly more space and a small perch, litter and a nest rather than just a bare wire mesh floor but it is still a confinement system and restricts behaviour.
Barn hens are kept indoors but they can move around and have enough space to do natural things like peck, scratch, flap their wings and lay their eggs in a nest box.
Free range and organic hens live in sheds but can also go outside during daylight hours, where they often have trees and shrubs for shelter. Organic hens are also limited to smaller flocks, given extra space both indoors and out, and their beaks are not usually trimmed. Soil Association organic eggs have the highest welfare standards.
For boxes of eggs:
- Clear winners for boxes of eggs are The Co-op, M&S and Waitrose which only sell free range and organic boxes of eggs.
- Runners-up are Booths and Sainsbury’s because they don’t sell ‘enriched cage’ eggs.
- Clear losers are those still selling ‘enriched cage’ eggs – Aldi, ASDA, Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco.
For eggs used in own brand products (quiches, cakes, pasta etc.):
- Only uses free range – Co-op, M&S, Waitrose
- Uses free range & barn eggs – Sainsbury’s
- Uses free range & ‘enriched cage’ – ASDA, Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco
The clear winners again are The Co-op, M&S and Waitrose whilst ASDA, Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco get rotten egg awards again for using ‘enriched cage’ eggs.