Tesco slashes chicken prices

Tesco has slashed the price for its standard whole chicken to £1.99 provoking criticism from the NFU.

It seems Tesco's shoppers will be making their views on chicken rearing heard with their purchasing decisions.

The retailer yesterday announced that while it has doubled the amount of free range chicken available it will also be slashing the price of its standard whole bird from £3.30 to £1.99.

Tesco controversially announced the move on the day, a study funded by Defra, raised welfare concerns for broiler chicken.

The study, which was lead by Dr Toby Knowles of Bristol University's Division of Farm Animal Science, found at an average age of 40 days, over 27.6% of birds had difficulty moving and 3.3 per cent were almost unable to walk. He believes this is specifically related with the rate of growth.

Dr Knowles said: "Broiler chickens have been subjected to intense genetic selection. In the past 50 years, broiler growth rates have increased by over 300% from 25g to 100g a day."

Other factors he cites as responsible for this include the age of bird, bird genotype, not feeding whole wheat, a shorter dark period during the day, higher stocking density, no use of antibiotic and the use of intact feed pellets.

The research concludes that there is some scope to improve walking through alterations in husbandry practice and that a debate on the sustainability of current practice in the production of broiler chickens is required along with the economics of improved welfare practices.

The National Farmers Union said it was aware of the study and had been working with the University of Bristol to address the issues raised.

"Broiler leg weakness is an established and well known problem in chicken production. Great strides have been made in reducing the incidence of the problems but clearly there is more to do and this is regarded as a priority for the chicken industry," said a spokesman for the NFU.

The news that Tesco is cutting the price of standard whole birds from £3.30 to £1.99 provoked criticism from the NFU.

An NFU spokesman said: It's completely the wrong thing for Tesco to be doing. It's extremely ill judged and short sighted. They're devaluing the product and doing it at a time when, overall, the market is strengthening and chicken prices are rising. They're sucking value out of the supply chain and unless Tesco is going to subsidise this it is not a sustainable price."

Tesco's media director Jonathan Church said of the decision: "We have been working hard for a while to increase the amount of higher welfare chicken we sell and the recent debate over chickens in the media has helped raise awareness of the choice available to customers.

"But our investment in premium chicken should not be seen as a move away from providing more affordable options for those on a budget. With 85% of the UK shoppers putting chicken in their shopping basket every week, millions of people rely on Tesco to provide good quality chickens at low prices."

He added: "No-one should feel guilty just because it is good value. The only reduction we make is in the price - not the welfare."