Chris Packham leads fresh call for Co-op Group to stop sale of ‘Frankenchickens’

The Humane League has sent an open letter to the Group’s new chair Debbie White asking for the fast-growing birds to be taken off sale

Nature broadcaster Chris Packham is leading a new call organised by the Humane League UK, which urges the Co-op Group to stop selling fast-growing breeds of chicken.

An open letter, signed by more than 2,000 Group members, asks the retail society’s new chair to be “an advocate for giving Co-op chickens a better life”.

The Humane League has been leading a long-running campaign against farming and sale of the chickens, selectively bred to grow faster to reduce costs and speed meat production. Activists, who describe the birds as “Frankenchickens”, say there are serious animal welfare concerns about the practice.

It said: “This breed of chicken is genetically selected to grow unnaturally big and unnaturally fast in order to maximise profit margins. But the true cost of this breed is the suffering,” said Humane League UK.

“Frankenchickens are likely to collapse under their own weight and to experience organ failure and heart attacks, alongside a myriad of other health problems.”

The Group is among the retailers targeted by the campaign. At its AGM last year, members backed a resolution asking the board to consider adopting in full the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) standards which include dropping the fast-growing breeds, alongside banning cages, giving birds more space, ditching introducing less painful slaughter conditions.

In its response, the Group said it was putting the resolution into action, with measures to improve stock density due to take effect in 2024.

But Matt Hood, managing director of Food, told the AGM that he would not currently advocate adopting a slower growing breed due to the cost being around 30-35% more expensive. He argued that the extra cost would likely be passed onto consumers amid the cost-of-living crisis, although the option remains open for the future.

The Group has also said that it considering the feasibility of signing up to the BCC in full. 

Related: Chicken farming row tests the Co-op Group’s ethical mettle

Last month, the retailer announced new steps to improve welfare, saying that all of its fresh chicken is now bred with a lower stocking density, giving the birds 20% more space, with products now available in store.

The Humane League UK letter welcomed these changes but said: “We want our Co-op to agree to shift away from the cruel practice of raising Frankenchickens for meat and be the pioneer in animal welfare that is written so proudly in our sustainability reports.

“We are not expecting changes overnight, but we want to hear a commitment from the board that our Co-op will be leading the way for a better future for farmed animals.”

Alongside the letter, Packham recorded a video message to White, saying: “Wouldn’t it be good not to use that breed of chicken any longer? To send a clear message via the consumers, through your stores to the producers that we’re no longer happy with that taking place.

“The Co-op prides itself on being an ethical supermarket, an ethical organisation, and times have changed Debbie, we know this. We’ve got to change our minds and our practices,” he added.

“So can I ask you to please consider not taking any more Frankenchickens in the Co-op stores? It would send out a fantastic message, like I said. It would be a great step forward – something to think about in your first few weeks and months as Co-op chair.”

A Co-op spokesperson said: “Ensuring the animals in our supply chain are looked after is a priority and all of our fresh chicken is 100% British, meets or exceeds Red Tractor standards and birds are reared to lower stocking density (30kg/m2), which is a higher welfare standard and has a significant positive impact on welfare and health of birds.

“We are a member-owned organisation, constituted to create value for our members and we have fully complied with the 2023 AGM request of our members to consider improvements in our chicken welfare.”