‘It has become a discussion point on the table’: Nestlé on its pledge to improve European chicken welfare

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Nestle says it will improve chicken welfare as part of the European Broiler Ask ©iStock/Droits d'auteur ShockMonkey
Nestle says it will improve chicken welfare as part of the European Broiler Ask ©iStock/Droits d'auteur ShockMonkey
Nestlé has said it will improve the welfare conditions for chickens used to produce brands including Herta, Buitoni Wagner and Maggi.

By 2026, all Nestlé products that contain chicken in Europe will move to a single higher standard for welfare, as set out in the European Broiler Ask. The company currently uses 10,000 tonnes of chicken ingredients each year.

The Broiler Ask, which has been backed by NGOs including Compassion in World Farming as a means to improve the conditions of broiler chickens, includes provision for an enriched environment, minimum standards for light and air quality and the use of stunning during slaughter. Perhaps most significantly for chicken producers, Nestlé has also said it will commit to a maximum stocking density of 30kg per square metre or less and move away from fast-growing chicken breeds.

Olivier Marchand, global lead on responsible sourcing of meat and poultry, revealed that these changes will be implemented on a staggered basis. “This is going to be done with a phased approach starting with the actions we can do almost immediately, like enriching the environment, putting in purches, giving access to more natural light, light intensity. These can easily be done quickly. Reducing the stocking density or using breeds of birds that grow slower, these are things that will take a little more time to implement, through to 2026.​”

The move builds on a similar commitment Nestlé made for its US chicken sourcing, which it aims to move to a higher welfare standard by 2024. The Swiss food giant has also said it will only source cage-free eggs for its products by 2020 in Europe and the US and by 2025 globally.

Working with supply chain

Nestlé said it is working with its supply chain to begin the transition. “It is important that you involve your supply chain, we are not doing this alone we are doing this with our suppliers,”​ Marchand said.

However, the sourcing executive acknowledged that the changes will mean farmer incur additional costs. “These things are going to drive some additional costs for the farmers and it is going to take time for the whole supply chain to adapt to that. That is why this pledge is by 2026.”

Nestlé will base the support it provides for its supply base on an animal welfare programme it is running in France to improve the welfare of pigs, the Préférence Programme.

Marchand explained: “We have Nestlé people that go to the farms, verify certain practices at farm level… and the farmers get a longer term contract. It is a guarantee of supply to Nestlé, which makes it easier for them to apply for investment. It is a long-term partnership between Nestlé and suppliers.”

The programme will launch in France and initially focus on the Herta brand, where Nestlé said it will have most impact.

Wayne England, head of Nestlé’s food business, added that the company as well as creating a market for higher welfare ingredients Nestlé also works with its supply base to drive costs out of the chain elsewhere.

Growing pressure from consumers and investors

England said that Nestlé is making the pledge because it is “the right thing to do”​. He noted that there is a ground-swell of interest from consumer and customers in how food is produced and where it comes from.

“It is the right time for us to move to a stronger position with this commitment. There is no doubt there is an increase in stakeholder requirements for us to work harder on this,” he told reporters during a conference call to discuss the move.

“Animal welfare is becoming a discussion point on the table more and more strongly. It is the right thing to do with information that is coming forward on the treatment of animals as well as information that is coming forward on what consumers and investors are requesting.”

Marchand added that European consumers are particularly keen to see improvements in animal welfare conditions in the supply chain. “The European Commission [publishes] a Eurobarometer statistic on the attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare. The last one was published in March 2016. Year-on-year we see an increased demand from consumers on animal welfare: 94% of Europeans believe it is important to protect the welfare of animals and 82% think we should do more. We see this trend continuously increasing from consumers as well as investors.”

England said that the initiative was part of a broader drive to improve Nestlé’s ingredients sourcing. “This is a more that fits a bigger programme that we are undertaking as we move to transform our portfolio across the globe in our food products. This momentum has been going for two years now and we are excited by the results and how it is moving along.”

Nestlé will report back annually on the progress it is making as it moves towards implementation of the Broiler Ask.  

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