Food businesses considering signing up to the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) often ask what the difference in price will be between the low-welfare chicken they are currently selling and chicken produced to the higher standards of the BCC.
Chicken is one of the lowest cost meats, but the true cost is paid by the birds bred to grow so abnormally fast, leading to a range of severe health problems including lameness and heart disease. When animals are churned through a system that is only about profit with no regard for their quality of life, costs can be kept low, but this is unacceptable to anyone who cares about the ethical treatment of animals.
For businesses that are primarily concerned about their bottom line, cost is a key consideration. As there is not yet any BCC chicken available in Aotearoa, we have to look at cost comparisons overseas, where higher welfare chickens are already well established in the market.
In Europe, more than 330 food companies have already signed up to demand these higher standards and that has resulted in chicken producers transitioning to supplying commercially viable BCC-compliant chicken.
It’s invaluable to have the results of a new study published by Peter van Horne and Luuk Vissers of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands. They compared the costs of European BCC*-complaint chicken production and conventional chicken production in the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Italy, Spain and France – countries where there is already a large supply of BCC chicken.
The cost increase from shifting to higher welfare standards of the BCC is 18-19% higher on average.
There was a variation in cost difference between conventional and BCC chicken in the different countries studied. In the Dutch situation, there was an increase in production costs of 22% because of higher costs for housing, feed, labour and energy usage.
In Germany Italy, Spain and Poland, the increase in costs for the ECC system compared to the conventional broiler system is smaller than in the Netherlands – in these countries, production costs increase by 18 to 19%. The reasons for this are varied. In Germany, the number of birds in conventional systems is closer to the number of birds allowed per square metre under the BCC due to the national regulations, and in Spain, the warmer climate means fewer chickens are kept per square metre conventionally. Poland has the advantage of lower costs of housing and labour.
In France the difference in costs is smaller, 16% more expensive, because birds are killed at a younger age.
This study clearly shows that shifting to BCC standards to give chickens a life worth living is economically viable and the way forward for any food business wanting to provide its customers with chicken produced with animal welfare in mind.
*The European Chicken Commitment or ECC, is equivalent to the Better Chicken Commitment in New Zealand.