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From Co-op Live to chicken’s lives: New PR headache for Co-op Group

Manchester’s Co-op Live hasn’t even managed to open its doors yet and there’s already a new headache on the horizon for venue sponsor Co-op, with the #CrueltyAtThe Coop hashtag trending on Twitter and several celebrities throwing their weight behind the campaign.

The campaign refers to Co-op’s use of so-called “Frankenchickens” – birds that have been selectively bred to grow faster and produce meat more quickly.

Campaign group Open Cages said it secretly took videos and photos at three Lincolnshire farms that supply the group between August and November 2022. The group said the footage showed birds looking deformed, injured or dirty, near death, unable to eat or drink, or suffering from untreated wounds.

The footage hit the headlines in August 2023, and inspired a protest at Co-op’s Manchester HQ attended by 32 protesters, 24 of whom were members of the group, holding placards and large blood-splattered membership cards.

The issue of chicken welfare was also raised at Co-op’s May 2023 AGM where members passed a motion asking the board to “improve welfare standards for chickens and … consider adopting the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) in full,” although MD of food, Matt Hood, told the AGM that he would not advocate adopting a slower growing breed during a cost-of-living crisis as it would lead to chicken being around 30-35% more expensive. Hood kept the option on the table for the future.

In response to Open Cages’ claims, a spokesperson for Co-op said last year: “Ensuring the animals in our supply chain are looked after is a priority for us, and all our fresh chicken meets or exceeds Red Tractor or RSPCA Assured standards, supported by our new commitment, we will be reducing chicken stocking density to give the chickens 20% more space and a healthier life.

“We understand that the three farms alleged to be shown in the footage have all recently been inspected by Red Tractor with no animal welfare issues identified.

“In May 2023, we announced a significant step forward in our chicken welfare with the confirmation that all fresh Co-op chicken will be reared with a reduced maximum stocking density of 30kg/m2, giving the chickens 20% more space and a healthier life. This will be implemented in our supply chain in 2024.

“Our free-range chicken is already reared to the lower stocking density whilst the total chicken offering complies with acknowledged high level welfare standards on stunning, compliance with legislation and environment enrichment. Co-op also publicly reports on key welfare indicators on an annual basis.”

Now it seems that campaigners are taking advantage of the publicity generated by Co-op Live’s protracted opening process to bring the issue back to the fore.

The Humane League UK, a charity devoted to ending the abuse of animals raised for food, argues Co-op has unethical priorities for spending millions on the music venue whilst refusing to stop selling “Frankenchickens,” and celebrity supporters tweeting the charity’s #CrueltyAtTheCoop hashtag this morning included celebrity chef and environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall:

Former model and Sky Sports and GB News presenter Kirstie Gallacher:

And CBBC and Tomorrow’s World presenter Philippa Forrester:

Claire Williams, campaigns manager for The Humane League UK, said: “While Co-op is celebrating the opening of Co-op Live, the massive Manchester venue that bears its name, we are asking if this supermarket is spending money in the right places. It’s nearly a year since Co-op members voted to get rid of Frankenchickens, whose genes cause them to grow faster and suffer more than other birds. Yet Co-op is still dallying, while chickens are living in agony on their farms. There will be no standing ovation for Frankenchickens – their poor leg health means they often can’t stand.”

Prolific North has contacted Co-op for comment. Co-op Live, the UK’s biggest indoor Arena, is currently due to open in Manchester on May 1.

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