Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fowl Deeds


After my week or so of hardcore blogging I have been a little lax recently, but I do have a good excuse. I heard from Tesco in response to the nasty letter I wrote them about the chickens, and because of the incredible dissatisfaction I received from their letter I have been at a bit of a crossroads. So, in the last week I have been mulling over whether I am ready to cross the line from 'concerned consumer/animal lover' to 'chicken crusader/total social pariah' and start writing righteous letters to newspapers and standing around holding leaflets that have horrible pictures on them. One of the things that has been most helpful to me is how weirdly supportive everyone has been about my soap boxing-- here on the blog, at home, generally among friends to whom I have cautiously mentioned this-- which is partly what makes me think that maybe I should go all out and start a little pro-bird, anti-Tesco campaign (then again, the fact that everyone has been nice about it reminds me that I quite like my friends and that I would prefer not to alienate them). Anyway, here's the run-down of my exchange with Tesco. I have just cut and pasted my letter to them below and then typed out their response, so if it all seems a bit wordy, I apologise. Oh, I was also kind of graphic, so be prepared for that, too.

Tesco Customer Service
PO Box 73
Baird Avenue
Dryburgh Industrial Estate
Dundee DD1 9NF

2 April 2006

To whom it may concern;

While shopping in Tesco (Broughton Road, Edinburgh) today I noticed something in the meat aisle that disturbed me for a number of reasons. I had previously believed that Tesco’s standards of animal welfare and wellness were reasonably high for a supermarket, but after seeing hock burns on the roasting chickens on display I am disappointed to say that I am no longer convinced of this. As I am sure you know, hock burns are the result of over-crowding of chickens, which results in the chickens being forced to squat for extended periods of time in their own excrement. Because of the high ammonia content of chicken excrement, it burns sores through the flesh of the birds. As a long-time Tesco customer, I am appalled that your store would be willing to sell birds that are not only so inhumanely treated, but that you are also willing to market a piece of meat with has fairly obviously been soaking in avian faeces.

Additionally, this chicken was marked with a label that I found to be deliberately misleading. It referenced the farmer who raised the chicken, who (if I remember correctly) had his premises in ‘rural Fife.’ The label implied that the farmer and his family had been running a small farm for a number of generations, and also referenced his compatibility with Tesco’s animal welfare standards. If this is the case, I am shocked that Tesco’s welfare standards are so abominably low that they would allow a supply from a farmer who so obviously over-crowds his livestock. If this is not the case, and this farmer did not raise this actual chicken, Tesco is guilty of false advertising. Regardless, I think that your corporation is misleading the public with this system of labelling, and the verbal manipulation used implies a standard of farming which is obviously far beyond that in which this bird was raised.

In truth, I am most greatly disappointed because I have, in general, always found my shopping experience in Tesco to be a pleasant one, bolstered by the friendly staff and the wide selection of products (especially the expanding range of organic products and free-range meats). I am very sorry to have had my estimation of your corporation so tarnished.

I am forwarding a copy of this letter to the CIWF (Compassion in World Farming) Trust, who recently gave Tesco a score of 35.1 out of possible of 60 points on the supermarket’s overall performance and awareness of animal welfare. This rating means that Tesco out-performed such competitors as Sainsbury’s and ASDA. If this is the case I am loathe to see what abominations these supermarkets stock.


What I got back was this:

Dear dev,

Thank you for contacting us.

We currently stock full ranges of both organic and free range chicken products in our chilled poultry cabinets and have done so for many years.

We demand high standards of animal welfare and are committed to ensuring that we source chickens from suppliers who operate to high standards of production. Our suppliers are audited rhrough an independent farm assurance scheme. We also have an agricultural them dedicated to raising animal welfare standards within the industry.

Thank you for your comments. I hope this reply reassures you that Tesco is fully committed to animal welfare.

Yours sincerely
For and on behalf of Tesco Stores Ltd

Alison Irvine

Now, I don't know about you guys, but that reply actually did not reassure me of Tesco's 'high standards' of welfare one bit, particularly since I had seen the damn hockburns on another couple chickens at the supermarket that day. I am annoyed that there is such an obvious socio-economic divide in terms of the quality and wellness of food that people are offered, and that because I can afford to buy a free-range chicken without really even thinking about it I get better quality and better piece of mind. So, I went and did a little investigative work so that I can offer you guys that comparative pricing on chickens at Tesco. Use it as you choose-- I know spending more money on something that essentially seems the same probably feels a bit weird, but when you upgrade your chicken you aren't just paying for welfare, you are paying for quality, too. If we were all straddling the poverty line I wouldn't ask, but I know we aren't, and I honestly think that the change has to start with those who can and those who know, so that eventually everyone (over-educated uni grads, single mothers with 5 kids to feed, wealthy gourmets) is offered the most ethical, high-quality choice available and that the animals who feedus are treated with respect and kindness. For more information, ask away, or if you want something a little more reliable than just my bitching, you can always check out Hugh F-W at (also good for seaosnal fooding!) or the peeps over at Compassion in World Farming Trust at (exceptional for really cute pictures of exceedingly clean-looking cattle, though there are also some upsetting pictures of pretty vicious cruelty). Okay, so here's the chicken info as of 8 April 2006:*

At Tesco, a normal, battery hen (complete with hock burns, flaccid meat, and the kind of Karma that bring you back as one of those chickens) will cost you 2.25 pounds per kilo.
A Free Range hen (this guarantees a reasonable amount of extra space and access to the outdoors during the day for the chicken, hence a bit more exercise and therefore more flavourful meat, but the bird can still legally be fed creepy soy meal or GM foods) costs 3.17 pounds per kilo.
An Organic hen (which is the best you can get at Tesco, though as i have discovered their organic chickens are NOT Soil Association approved, and therefore have substantial room for improvement) will cost you just over 4 quid per kilo.

So, if you are feeding 3 fairly hungry peeps, you would get a 1.3 kilo battery chicken for 3 quid, and a 1.3 kilo Organic chicken for a fiver. The difference is two pounnds (as in, that last pint of Carling that pushed you from okay-ish to utterly mortal this weekend, and gave you a raging hangover the next day), but I can assure you that the pleasure of cooking and eating the organic bird is so different it would blow your mind.

And now, I am going to stop my rant. It seems I have made my decision about that whole Animal Lover v. Social Pariah question...

* I apologise to the American audience for not having proper stats on your supermarket options-- I'll try to gather some in June, or until then, you can do the Inspector Gadget stuff at your local supermarket.


Blogger TooBlue said...

Have you seen "Chicken Run," dear? If not, don't; you'll end up with camoflauge facepaint trying to break into Tesco's corporate headquarters with a nail file, a rubber band ball, and a drumstick.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Lucky Duck said...

A chicken drumstick? No hock burns please.

11:30 AM  
Blogger dev said...

Oh, no-- I believe Chicken Run features the vocal talents of Mel Gibson, and if there is one thing that disturbs me as much as cruelty in the meat industry, it is fundamentalist celebrities and their creepy religio-entertainment. Mel and his Catholicism and Tom and his Scientology have not been a part of my movie-watching repetoire for many moons, because the knowledge of these parts of their disturbed psyches makes me unable to suspend my disbelief for long enough to see them as anything but the psychos they are...
I would rather use a drum drumstick, but if it is a poultry-based weapon it would of course be free-range, and hopefully locally sourced and organic.

12:15 PM  

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