Australian chicken producers question Coles’ RSPCA Approved chicken

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 13th January 2014
Australian chicken producers have questioned Coles' RSPCA Approved move

Australian chicken producers have said they are the “latest in a long line” of farmers and industries to be the target of “shallow marketing tactics” being deployed by Australian supermarket groups Coles and Woolworths.

Coles recently announced it would only stock RSPCA Approved chicken on its shelves, but the chicken meat industry representative body, the Australian Chicken Growers Council (ACGC), has said the move is “hollow marketing tactic”. The ACGC also said Coles was “using devious advertising and double-speak to disguise the real impacts on farmers”.

The AGCG said the move by Coles created “significant negatives for chicken growers, the value chain, and chicken meat consumers”.

“Consumers are being duped into paying increased prices for their food with no scientific basis for the claims that this change is providing enhanced animal welfare,” said Mike Shaw, ACGC President. “They are in fact being denied choice by the supermarkets,” he said.

“Changing farms to an RSPCA-accredited production system comes at a significant extra cost to chicken growers, and this system also shifts significant risk of production from processors onto farmers,” Mr Shaw said. “At the moment, growers aren’t being fairly compensated for those costs and risk. Growers are not being given indication that they will be fairly compensated for the costs associated with this move,” he said.

The ACGC said the move by Coles would cost consumers more, and “even though the extra cost would largely be borne by farmers, the farmers aren’t seeing this value passed on”.

Move creates “duplicitous” impression of Coles chicken: ACGC

The ACGC also said that the move was “further duplicitous in the impression it sought to create of this product line”.

“Watching Coles’ advertisements, an unknowing consumer could be led to believe that RSPCA Accreditation is comparable to free range production,” Mr Shaw said. “This is not the case. Further, the chicken industry has serious questions about the rationale behind some of the RSPCA guidelines, which were not developed in consultation with farmers,” he said.

Mr Shaw said some growers saw RSPCA guidelines, such as “constant extra entries into sheds and frequent rotary hoeing”, as actually having a negative impact on bird welfare.

“This process has short-circuited all the conventional channels when it comes to production standards, at the expense of farmers and consumers,” Mr Shaw said. “Coles is arbitrarily imposing standards — which suit its vested interests — on other parts of the value chain,” he said.

Industry supports “free-range” production

Mr Shaw said the industry was continuing to support “free-range” production, which provides consumers with a credible and reliable higher-price-point option for enhanced animal welfare.

“And at the same time we also support consumer choice. It appears that Coles does not support that choice,” Mr Shaw said.

But the label “free-range” has also come under fire in recent times — in relation to eggs.

Australian Food News reported in December 2013 that New South Wales (NSW) Fair Trading had recommended a “binding national information standard” be developed under Australian Consumer Law that sets a clear definition of “free-range”. Australian Food News also reported in December 2013 that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had filed separate court proceedings in the Federal Court against egg producers in Western Australia and NSW alleging that each of the producer’s use of “free-range” was misleading.