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Animal welfare is at the heart of our business and we know how important it is to our customers. 

I’m proud of our record (ranked in ‘tier one’ by the Business Benchmark for Animal Welfare for the past two years) and the farming standards behind our industry leading Oakham chicken. 

I was therefore not surprised when I met up with the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) early in December and was asked whether M&S would be one of the first companies to sign-up to a new poultry welfare campaign.  

Oakham chickens have more living space than standard supermarket chickens (34kg/m2 compared to an industry average of 38kg/m2). Our farmers do not thin their flocks (a process where some of the chickens are removed from a barn earlier than the rest). And Oakham barns have lots of natural daylight and features to improve the birds’ living environment such as bales for perching and pecking objects.   

However, it is my responsibility to push the boundaries and test what can be achieved whilst at the same time delivering high quality, great value product for our customers. 

So, M&S has signed up and pledged our support.  

Under the campaign’s ‘ask’ we have committed to even more space in barns (a move to 30kg/m2) and to farming a new, higher welfare breed of bird by 2026. 

All other requirements (for example natural daylight, enriched environment, gas stunning and third-party auditing) are already met by Oakham standards. But we will go further and work with all our suppliers, not just our Oakham chicken suppliers, to ensure they can meet the ‘ask’ by 2026. This will mean every piece of chicken sold by M&S, be it fresh or as an ingredient, will meet the new standards called for by welfare organisations. We’ll report on progress annually. 

British farming has amongst the highest standards in the world because it has always gone above and beyond to deliver for its customers and its animals. This new challenge will be no different, but achieving the commitments won’t be easy. 

We won’t compromise on quality or value for our customers. Therefore, we will have to make changes to how we farm and process our poultry products. 

These changes must be sustainable and that is why we will begin a series of trials later this month designed to test the new standards and how they work in a commercial farming supply chain. We need to get it right for our customers, our farmers and our chickens. 

Finding the right suppliers to support us on this journey is also vitally important, we need to make sure we’re working with the best and most committed.   

It will be a long, challenging road to 2026 and I expect a few bumps on the way. But I know that it is a journey worth making and I look forward to working with the welfare charities and our suppliers to deliver great quality chicken products for our customers, now and in the future.