A story of change: What Coles and Woolworths are doing to improve the lives of meat chickens

Chicken is the most popular meat in Australia. To meet the demand, more than 660 million birds were farmed in 2020 alone. The good news is that year on year we’ve seen more farms participate in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, raising their birds to our higher welfare Standard. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing with you the journey we’ve been on and the important role farmers, retailers, brands and, of course consumers play in improving the lives of meat chickens.

The significant uptake of the RSPCA Standard by the Australian meat chicken industry is undoubtedly the biggest achievement for animal welfare within the Scheme. In 2020, the Scheme saw more than 579 million birds raised to our detailed animal welfare Standard. We’re proud of the efforts and commitment by meat chicken farmers and the brands they supply to raise the bar for animal welfare within their industry.

Setting our animal welfare Standard
First released in 2010, the RSPCA Standard for meat chickens focuses on making sure birds are raised in an environment that meets both their physical and behavioural needs, such as being able to perch, scratch, peck and dust bathe.

In 2013, two years after its release, around 13% of Australia’s meat chickens were raised to our Standard. In 2015, it was more than 63% and in 2018 it was 78%. Today, more than 87% of all meat chickens farmed in Australia are raised to the RSPCA Standard and farms undergo frequent and thorough assessments as part of their participation in the Scheme.

From sheds that were often highly stocked, with low light, very poor litter quality and no perches, the adoption of our Standard has seen space per bird increased, better lighting provided, good litter quality and provision of perches and enrichment, resulting in better health and wellbeing for these birds.

While the majority of meat chicken farms participating in the Scheme are certified against the indoor requirements of our Standard only, around 20% are certified to both the indoor and outdoor requirements. Chicken from these farms can be labelled as free range and RSPCA Approved. Certification for these birds has meant improvements to the quality and appeal of the range, for example better shade and shelter, and easier access.

While our Standard goes above and beyond what’s legally required in Australia, the aim is to set participating farms on a path of continuous improvement in animal welfare. Farms and brands participating in the Scheme choose to do so because they are looking to raise animal welfare standards, and want independent, third-party certification for this.

Drivers for change
The driver for the uptake of the RSPCA Standard was the 2014 landmark move by Coles to become the first supermarket to source RSPCA Approved chicken for all its own branded fresh chicken. This move was closely followed by Woolworths and launched a transformation within the industry resulting in continual improvements to bird welfare.

Over the years, both retailers have expanded their commitment to include RSPCA Approved chicken as an ingredient in other products. This has meant that not only their range of frozen products now uses chicken from farms participating in the Scheme but also chicken used in ready-made meals, sandwiches and soups.

Paving the way for other brands
The commitment by Coles, Woolworths and their suppliers to adopt the RSPCA Standard means chicken farmed to higher welfare standards is more accessible than ever to Australian consumers.

Currently Coles offers customers the broadest range with Coles Chicken, Coles Free Range Chicken, The Bare Bird as well as Coles Slow Hills, the first slow-growing chicken in the Australian market, all RSPCA Approved.

Woolworths offers customers RSPCA Approved through Woolworths Chicken, The Bare Bird and The Free Ranger (in select stores).

The efforts by Coles and Woolworths has also led to a steady rise in more well-known brands sourcing RSPCA Approved chicken, including David Jones and ALDI, as well as an increasing number of restaurants and food manufacturing companies.

We’ll be sharing more about these forward-thinking brands in our next post, as well as the important role we all have in making sure meat chickens grown in Australia continue to have a better quality of life.

Explore what the Scheme means for animals and the journey we’ve been on for the past 25 years at our new immersive impact webpage – all of which has only been possible because caring Australians, support a future of higher welfare by choosing RSPCA Approved.

You might also be interested in A story of change: the restaurants and cafes supporting better welfare for meat chickens

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