UPDATED: ALL Coles brand fresh chicken will be RSPCA approved from today, in a move the supermarket giant says is a win for consumers and animal welfare.
In a statement, Coles says it will source RSPCA approved fresh chicken from 170 farms across Australia, working with suppliers including Hazeldenes, Cordina Farms, Baiada, Nichols Poultry and Golden Cockerel.
RSPCA approved chickens are raised in barns farmed to RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme Standards, which it says "allow birds to freely exhibit natural behaviours such as perching, scratching and foraging".
In a statement, Coles says it understands there are extra costs involved in meeting the standards set by the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, so has paid its suppliers more in order to meet the increased costs of RSPCA approved production.
It says it has worked closely with the RSPCA and 170 farms across Australia, over three years, to deliver RSPCA approved Coles brand chicken to customers.
Coles chief operating officer, John Durkan, said the move was the latest in a series of “quality improvements”.
“Coles has listened carefully to what customers are telling us about animal welfare and the quality of the food they feed their families,” he said in a statement.
“We’ve taken this feedback to our farmers and growers and worked with them to deliver a better product without adding to the cost of the weekly shop.
“We started with no added hormones beef nearly three years ago and then followed with cage-free Coles brand eggs, sow stall-free fresh pork and sustainable sea food.
“And now we have gone further and made all our Coles brand fresh chicken RSPCA approved, again at no extra cost to customers.”
However, Victorian Farmers Federation chicken meat president Allan Bullen said Coles must guarantee that chicken farmers and processors would not bear the cost of the changes.
"The RSPCA standard means more space for birds, installing perches, more lighting, deeper litter and higher audit, labour and transport costs," he said.
“If we are to implement the RSPCA standards it will increase our chicken farmers' growing cost by 25 per cent.
“So, my question to Mr Durkan is: ‘Will you give us an iron-clad guarantee that Coles absorbs the extra cost of implementing the RSPCA standard?'
“The reality is we’re getting paid 83 cents a bird, delivered to Coles processors. Yet Coles is selling its roasted chickens at $10 a bird – who’s making the margin, because the farmers aren’t."
Coles has been selling RSPCA approved chicken breasts, wings, drumsticks, thigh fillets and whole chickens since 2011.
The pre-packed range initially went on sale in Victorian stores only but was introduced to other States as the products became more popular with customers.
Now, 100 per cent of Coles brand fresh chicken including loose portions from the deli and barbecue chickens will be RSPCA approved.
RSPCA Australia chief executive Heather Neil said “the lives of millions of meat chickens will be improved” through Coles’ move.
“It’s an exciting time for Australian consumers, who over the years have been demanding more and more high welfare food in a growing trend which is directly benefiting the welfare of farm animals,” she said in a statement.
Coles says a blind taste test involving 428 consumers and conducted by Colmar Brunton market research agency in November 2013, confirmed that “the higher welfare Coles RSPCA Approved chicken tastes better than conventionally raised Coles chicken”.
A new nationwide TV advertising campaign featuring Australian chef and Coles ambassador, Curtis Stone, launches today.
“Whether you are growing fruit and vegies or producing pork and chicken, the fact is the more care you take in growing the plant or raising the animal the better tasting product you’re going to get on your plate,” Mr Stone said in a statement.
“Australian farmers already produce some of the best food in the world and I’m delighted that they are once again leading the way in helping Australian families serve up better quality, better tasting food.”