Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt and its sister organisation OKay have announced they will ban the sale of broiler chickens, bred and raised specifically for meat production, from 2026.
In doing so, they will be the first Belgian retailers to switch to selling chickens raised following higher animal welfare criteria, based on the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC), according to a press release on Monday.
"With these new criteria, we take a big step forward in animal welfare for chickens. We make it easier for our customers to make a sustainable choice in terms of animal welfare," Guy Elewaut, Director of Marketing at Colruyt, said.
"In addition, we hope to have a positive impact on the entire sector. By applying these criteria to our standard chicken, which represents more than 73% of our total chicken volume, we hope to make a difference and inspire the sector," Elewaut added.
The BCC criteria, launched in 2017 by some 30 NGOs, aim to improve the animal welfare of broiler chickens in Belgian nurseries, meaning the chickens have more space and daylight and include switching to a slower-growing breed, as broiler chickens are usually fattened to two kilos in just six weeks.
This also means that from 2026 onwards, the standard chicken sold in the butcher's and frozen food sections of Colruyt and OKay will live longer: between 49 and 56 days instead of 42.
The supermarket chains are also committing to having the chicks born in-house, which means they will no longer be transported under stressful conditions and will have immediate access to food and water.
Expensive change, but a breakthrough
So far, processed chicken products such as those included in pre-packed salads and pasta will not comply with the criteria, but the Colruyt group "wants to roll out the animal welfare criteria together with the suppliers, step by step."
"It is not so easy for the suppliers to adapt their production methods to the new criteria. Sometimes expensive investments are needed, for example in the structure of the chicken houses," Elewaut said.
This means that the switch to chicken that has been raised more ethically and sustainably will take longer than in the Netherlands, where all supermarket chains have already decided not to sell any more fresh broiler chickens by the end of 2023, according to VRT News.
Animal rights organisation GAIA said it is pleased with the announcement and has called upon the other supermarket chains to follow Colruyt and OKay's example.
"This is the breakthrough we have been waiting for for so long," director Ann De Greef said.