Kraft Heinz Europe and frozen goods company Nomad Foods have both pledged to meet the higher chicken welfare criteria of the European Chicken Commitment (ECC) by 2026. The companies will now conform to stricter regulations than those dictated by the EU, including not using fast-growing breeds, reducing overcrowding, and adding environmental enrichment to provide better conditions for chickens. This move comes as consumers are increasingly demanding ethical and transparent practices, especially in relation to livestock.
“We can see that consumers are increasingly concerned about animal welfare and are committed to going above and beyond regulatory standards when sourcing animal products such as poultry. Collaboration is fundamental to achieve real change and the ECC provides an industry-wide framework and path that all parts of the supply chain can unite behind,” Annelie Selander, Sustainability Director at Nomad Foods, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
The extensive changes require a significant investment of time and resources, industry-wide, according to Rafael Oliveira, Kraft Heinz International Zone President. “Kraft Heinz recognizes the complexity of this undertaking and looks forward to collaborating with our suppliers, the food industry and other stakeholders to advance these ambitious goals in a way that is sustainable for our collective businesses,” he continues.
The criteria defined in the ECC contains six key measures addressing the major issues encountered in standard chicken production:
Comply with all EU animal welfare laws and regulations, regardless of the country of production.
Implement a maximum stocking density of 30kg/m2 or less. Thinning is discouraged and if practiced, must be limited to one thin per flock.
Adopt breeds that demonstrate higher welfare outcomes.
Meet improved environmental standards, including:
At least 50 lux of light, including natural light.
At least two meters of usable perch space and two pecking substrates per 1,000 birds.
On air quality, the maximum requirements of Annex 2.3 of the EU broiler directive, regardless of stocking density.
No cages or multi-tier systems.
Adopt controlled atmospheric stunning using inert gas or multi-phase systems, or effective electrical stunning without live inversion.
Demonstrate compliance with the above standards via third-party auditing and annual public reporting on progress towards this commitment.
“Our focus is on continually improving the welfare of chickens but being a small player means that we have to work closely with our suppliers. We have spent the last year engaging with them to create a roadmap to improve the living conditions of the chicken we use in our products. This is why now is the right time to support and sign the ECC,” notes Selander.
She acknowledges that change will not happen overnight and that a step-by-step approach will be necessary, especially in the initial years. “By the end of 2019 all our chicken will be barn-reared, and our policy is clear that antibiotics should be used carefully and never to promote growth. We have already begun work on an enriched environment, and this will be a focus in the short-term.”
A changing mindset
Consumers are increasingly aware of where their food is coming from and are motivated to spend their money on products that they believe in. This is having an influence on the type of meat they consume – if they buy it at all. A 2018 Innova Market Insights trends survey found that eight in ten US consumers are more likely to buy brands that are honest and transparent about how and where products are produced, while one in five US consumers “have eaten less meat across the past year.” Meanwhile, 18 percent of consumers (US, UK, France, Germany, China and Brazil) cite animal welfare as the “biggest social and environmental concerns when considering the brands that you buy.”
“There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates that consumers increasingly place animal welfare as a top concern. However, we believe that there is also a general lack of knowledge and understanding of how chickens are reared for meat and also how sensitive and intelligent chickens are. This is perpetuated and taken advantage of by food companies who stand to benefit from using the cheapest chicken with low animal welfare standards,” says Pru Elliott, UK Head of Campaigns at The Humane League, which has been campaigning for companies to join the ECC.
She adds that the organization is focusing on the corporate sector as creating new laws is a lengthy process. Other companies who have joined the ECC include KFC, Danone, Nestlé, Unilever, Pret A Manger and Marks & Spencer.
Further appealing to the flexitarian crowd, KFC is piloting plant-based chicken in the US with its Beyond Fried Chicken. Meanwhile, the UK will potentially allow the washing of chicken with chlorine as part of a post-Brexit free trade deal with the US. The practice has been banned in the EU since 1997, due to food safety concerns.