An investigative report, carried out by animal protection charity The Humane League UK, found eight in ten samples of ‘standard’ chicken in the UK showed white stripe.
White stripe appears as thin white lines of fat running through the chicken breast and is caused by fatty deposits in the muscle. Meat with white stripe is safe to eat and does not represent a food safety issue. However, white stripe does affect texture and nutritional content of poultry.
Some studies have shown as high as a 224% fat content increase, a 9% protein decrease, and a 10% collagen increase when comparing normal breast muscle with those severely affected by white striping, as well as a deficiency of some essential amino acids.
The Humane League UK carried out the investigation by photographing and examining ‘standard’ factory-farmed ranges of supermarket own-brand chicken which are the most commonly available choice on their shelves. These were rated against a recognised scientific scale from ‘0 - none present’ up to ‘3 - severe white striping present’.
The disease appeared to be present in 94% of Asda samples, 92% of Aldi samples, and 92% of Lidl samples. The Humane League said that these three supermarkets were the ‘worst offenders’.
High-growth breeds most affected
White stripe is more prevalent in factory farmed chickens and high-growth breeds. This was born out by the research, which found only 11% of the samples of higher welfare chicken showed signs of white striping - including free-range and organic.
“There are clearly shocking levels of white striping disease throughout the UK retail industry,” Vicky Bond, Managing Director at The Humane League UK, said.
The Humane League UK is calling on UK retailers to eradicate fast-growing breeds of chicken from their supply chains by adopting the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC), which bans this ‘extreme breeding of chickens’.
Bond stressed the use of high growth breeds caused ‘many health and welfare issues’ for the birds as well as producing ‘a much lower quality end product’.
Chicken welfare and the Better Chicken Commitment
Over 170 leading food companies - from fast food giants like KFC in the UK to household brands including Nestle – have adopted the Better Chicken Commitment to address concerns about animal welfare, sustainability, and food safety.
Marks & Spencer became the first UK retailer to commit to the BCC in 2017, followed by Waitrose in 2019. However, other UK retailers including Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Asda and Morrisons, have not signed up.
Limited consumer choice?
The Humane League’s Bond said that retailer approaches to chicken welfare and ranging decisions limit consumer choice and prevent UK consumers from buying higher welfare products.
“When you go into a supermarket today, it is rare - if almost impossible - to not find eggs from higher welfare systems on offer. Free-range and cage-free eggs are everywhere. So why is the same level of consideration not given to chickens reared for meat? Brits want better quality and better welfare, but they’re just not given the choice,” she argued.
However, this suggestion was rebuffed by leading retailers and industry association the British Retail Consortium.
Elizabeth-Andoh Kesson, Food Policy Advisor at the BRC, told FoodNavigator: “Retailers expect their suppliers to adhere to all legal requirements and, if applicable, additional industry standards such as the Red Tractor assurance scheme. They take their responsibilities to animal welfare very seriously and customers have a choice of free-range and organic chicken in addition to the standard range.”
A spokesperson for Tesco went further still, arguing that the welfare conditions of its higher welfare chicken lines ‘meet or exceed’ pledges made under the BCC.
“Our Finest, Organic and new RSPCA Assured Room to Roam ranges meet or exceed every aim of the Better Chicken Commitment. All our fresh chicken is British and meets or exceeds Government-approved industry welfare standards, as well as Red Tractor. Working with our farmers and suppliers, we are committed to continuously improving the quality of our range to stay in line with best practice and animal welfare expertise.”