Protestors from the Humane League UK descended on four stores in the area – as well as its annual general meeting at the Manchester Central convention complex – this weekend to demand the retailer adopt the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC).
The BCC is a welfare policy that aims to ‘dramatically reduce the suffering’ of chickens raised for meat by providing more space, natural light, and enrichment; less painful slaughter methods; third party auditing; and prohibiting the use of fast-growing breeds.
BBC Springwatch presenter and Humane League UK supporter Chris Packham branded the Co-op's use of fast-growing chickens as unacceptable and deeply cruel.
“These birds grow 400% quicker than they did in the 1950s, putting huge strain on their bodies. These animals’ every instinct is to run, forage and explore,” he added. “Instead, they are imprisoned in bloated bodies, with poor health and suffering encoded into their genes.
“Hundreds of companies have acknowledged that these practices are unethical and have signed up to the Better Chicken Commitment. I simply call on Co-op to live up to its supposed values and join them.”
Fast-growing chicken breeds – dubbed ‘Frankenchickens’ for their unnatural size and growth rate – suffer from health conditions such as heart attacks, lameness, hock burns, ascites and white striping disease at higher rates than slow-growing birds, according to The Humane League UK.
However, a Co-op spokesman said all of the retailer's fresh chicken was in line with, or exceeded, industry and Government-approved standards.
"We also have our own strict welfare policies and Co-op Free-Range chicken already meets the Better Chicken Commitment standard," they added.
"We are running customer trials in over 60 stores with the slower growing breed of bird as our standard range, to understand if it meets the needs of customers as we are acutely aware that in the current economic climate, it is more important than ever that we provide our members and customers with good value, high quality, responsibly sourced chicken.”
More than 300 companies have now signed on to the BCC, including KFC, Greggs, Nando’s, Kraft-Heinz, Compass Group and Nestlé.
Cordelia Britton, head of programs at The Humane League UK, said: “The Co-op needs to recognise that there is no humane way to raise Frankenchickens, who are condemned to hellish lives because of their genes.
“Good animal welfare is fundamental to any ethical food business – without a commitment to the BCC the Co-op will remain a cruel custodian of millions of animals.”