Meal kits became a very popular choice for many during the pandemic. Myself included. I was able to source vegan and zero-waste meals from YumJar. And there are more and more options available, vegan, vegetarian or otherwise.
In fact, meal kits seem to have taken over my newsfeeds and people’s TV screens. Last year there was a time I couldn’t go onto Instagram without seeing sponsored content of an influencer cooking up their latest food box recipes for the week.
Update 23 November 2022
This article was originally published in September 2022. As of November 2022, My Food Bag and HelloFresh have both signed up to the Better Chicken Commitment after working with Animals Aotearoa. Making this commitment means these two brands will be making the necessary changes to improve the welfare of chickens in their supply chains, most importantly using healthier chicken breeds who grow more naturally.
Which meal kit is the most popular?
The three largest meal kits in New Zealand are My Food Bag, HelloFresh and Woop. My Food Bag is the longest running meal kit and, like Woop, only operates in New Zealand. HelloFresh operates internationally, in the United States, parts of Europe and Australia.
Which meal kits care the most about animal welfare?
What is interesting about this industry, is that almost all of the companies that sell meat claim various high ethical standards – but provide very little detail on what this means. Unlike supermarkets and other retailers who sell a number of options, a meal kit only includes one type of any product and it seems that meal kits have decided the most popular product when it comes to chicken meat is free-range.
I want to note here that many of these companies provide cage-free eggs and free-farmed pork. These are terms set by a third-party regulator, they are higher than minimum standard and have proven animal welfare benefits. This article is about the standards of chickens bred for meat.
None of the biggest three meal kits claim to be using SPCA-Certified chicken meat. We can assume that HelloFresh, My Food Bag and Woop are all using the chicken industry’s self-written free-range standard.
Most people would probably be shocked to see what the industry certifies as free-range. In fact, we have a whole section on our website dedicated to why free-range chickens suffer.
I will summarise the problems here quickly. Free-range is an unregulated term, so industries can claim whatever they want. When it comes to some animals (like hens farmed for their eggs) these standards are meaningful, but when it comes to chickens bred for meat these standards offer virtually no improvement.
This is because all chicken meat, including free-range, comes from abnormally fast-growing breeds. These baby birds are been bred to grow faster than nature intended, being slaughtered at just six weeks old.
To classify as free-range, the farmers must provide access to the outdoors. This comes in the form of small ‘pop-holes’ in the wall of the shed. They remain closed until about halfway through the birds’ life, while they develop feathers. Because of the unnatural breeding many of these chickens live in chronic pain, so even taking a few steps can be painful. They spend most of their time sitting, and some even suffer heart failure just weeks after being hatched.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. While all meal kits in New Zealand have yet to show they care about the health of the chicken breeds used, overseas, 56 individual meal kits and ready meal companies have committed to doing better.
How can meal kits make the world a better place for animals?
When it comes to social change and change for animals, we’d be forgiven for thinking that most change comes at a government and policy level.
But so often this isn’t the case. For example, while the use of cages on egg farms is still allowed under government regulations, all the meal kit companies have committed to using only cage-free eggs.
A lot of times social change first comes from the corporate responsibility policies of businesses. For example, the Government didn’t ban single-use plastic bags until after Countdown, PAK’nSAVE and New World did it.
The Better Chicken Commitment is the best way for food businesses to extend their corporate social responsibility to chickens bred for meat.
And other companies are already starting to demand a higher standard of farming for chickens bred for meat. In fact just last month, ready-meal company SwoleFoods signed the Better Chicken Commitment. They joined over 500 companies, internationally, who have committed to phasing out these unhealthy chicken breeds, in favour of breeds that grow more naturally.
The Better Chicken Commitment is all about creating better standards for chickens bred for meat. And where the government and the chicken industry have failed on animal welfare, food brands need to step up and do the right thing for chickens bred for meat – just like they did when adopting cage-free standards for hens farmed for eggs.
The road map for change already exists. The Australia-New Zealand Better Chicken Commitment is supported by Animals Aotearoa, SPCA New Zealand, Vets for Animal Welfare Aotearoa, World Animal Protection and 11 other international animal organisations.
HelloFresh has already signed the Better Chicken Commitment across Europe, in Canada and the United States. Until a meal kit in Aotearoa publicly commits to the use of healthier chicken breeds and the improved living conditions of the Better Chicken Commitment, it is hard to say that any of them are a leader in animal welfare.
For more information
- Read about why free-range chickens suffer
- Read about the Better Chicken Commitment
- Read about the difference between chickens bred for meat and hens farmed for their eggs