Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ethical Foods Memo: Jamie Oliver vs. Sainsbury's: Grocer Says it Will Stop Selling Factory Farmed Chickens

Friend or Fowl? Yesterday, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was eating his humble pie after a terse phone conversation with Sainsbury's CEO Jason King. Oliver, who is the grocer's TV spokesman, apologized to King for 'biting the hand that feeds him' over a factory poultry farming debate flap. Oliver said he was sorry a second time, sending a letter to King after their phone conversation. Today, however, chef Oliver is feeling his oats--and not a humble pie can be found in the Oliver kitchen. Why? Yesterday, CEO King announced the grocer would stop selling factory farmed chickens in its stores. What's next?

Yesterday we wrote about the spat between British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and Britain's "big four" supermarket chains--Sainsbury's, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons--over the refusal of the grocers to send representatives to debate Oliver about factory poultry farming on his TV program. (Read our Friday, Jan 11 story here.)

The internationally famous chef blasted the four leading supermarket retailers for not coming on the show. Oliver, who is the TV commercial pitchman for Sainsbury's, didn't spare his employer either.

Yesterday's version of this ongoing and increasingly dramatic story has oliver apologizing to Sainsbury's CEO Justin King over the telephone, and in a formal, follow-up letter he sent to the supermarket head a bit later.

Today, it seems that despite King's anger at Oliver for "biting the hand that feeds him" over the debate flap, the celebrity chef has had some major league influence on King--or perhaps with Sainsbury's customers, or both.

While being interviewed on the BBC's Today program yesterday, King announced Sainsbury's will eliminate the procuring and selling of all intensively or "factory farmed" chickens in all its stores. King also said the grocery chain will follow the UK's RSPCA organization's Freedom Food welfare standard for all broiler chickens.

The RSPCA is an organization which has set a series of humane welfare standards for raising and processing birds. These standards include: the prohibition of battery cages, strict limits on the density of the birds in cages, and making sure environmental enrichment is provided for the birds. Such environmental enrichment includes perches and playthings for the birds' stimulation and attentive behavior.

Further, the RSPCA standards call for the chickens to have a regular daytime and nightime, so that they're not kept awake artificially. This element goes with another standard, which is to not allow the birds to be fed around the clock, which some intensive or factory poultry farming operations do. This 24/7 feeding causes the birds to reach a mature weight prematurely.

King's announcement on the program yesterday sent shockwaves through the animal rights community, and suprised Sainsbury's rival supermarket chain CEO's.
Just the day before, the retailer ran full-page advertisements in the major London and suburban daily newspapers stating the grocer had nothing to be ashamed of in terms of the poultry it sells. The supermarket chain also sent letters to all of its loyalty card members. With this announcement coming the very next day, some are seeing it as an about face by the grocer.

Those shockwaves that rippled through the animal rights community in the UK were ones of joy however. The UK group Compassion in Farming called King's announcement a "major, ground-breaking step toward animal welfare."

Sainsbury's has already announced it's in the process of phasing-out the selling of eggs that come from caged hens. This announcement, that the grocer will follow RSPCA guidlines regarding the poultry it sells, should put a major focus on the issue and pressure Sainsbury's rival grocery chains to follow suit.

Sainsbury's CEO King did not announce a date on the radio program when the grocery chain would stop selling poulty that isn't raised and processed following RSPCA standards, and offer only those birds that do. The RSPCA organization has asked King to supply the group with that date.

A numer of industry observers in the UK say they believe Sainsbury's was planning on making this move for some time, but that the Oliver debate flap pushed the grocer's timetable up.

This might be true. However, if it is true, we believe it was a drastic advancement of that timetable. In fact, it looks like Jamie Oliver and his outburst was the catalyst that got CEO King to make the announcement yesterday.

Based on Sainsbury's new position on the factory poultry farming debate, and its phasing out of the sale of birds that don't meet RSPCA standards, we're leaning towards the opinion that Oliver just might remain the grocery chain's TV pitchman. After all, as of today both King, Oliver and Sainsbury's are now on the same page on the issue--and no TV debate was even needed. This story isn't over yet though. As they say on TV--stay tuned.

>Read more about the RSPCA and its humane poultry program here.
>You can view the RSPCA website here.
>Read specifically about the RSPCA humane chicken campaign here.
>You can view Sainsbury's corporate website here.
>Read what the UK Soil Association (SA), an important agricultural-oriented group, says about the issue, and about organic and free-range chicken farming here.

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