TV chef in plea to Tesco shareholders

TV cook Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall will today urge Tesco shareholders to back a call for the retail giant to improve its chicken rearing standards.

The star of Channel 4’s 'River Cottage' TV series has put forward a resolution at the company’s annual general meeting requesting the giant upgrade its minimum conditions to the RSPCA’s “Freedom Food” marque.

This would effectively mean Tesco use slower-growing breeds, a lower stocking density and environmental “enrichment” to allow chickens to express natural behaviour.

It would also meet the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s “Five Freedoms” for livestock, which Tesco has already said it endorses.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall said by selling factory farmed chickens – which he claims have no access to light or outside space or perching space – Tesco was “breaching its own animal welfare policy”.

He has asked the retailer to make the rearing-standard change within three years.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, who will be attending the AGM at Birmingham’s National Motorcycle Museum, raised nearly £90,000 (€113,612) requested by the supermarket giant so the resolution could be sent to all 235,000 shareholders. It needs the approval of at least 75% of shareholders to be passed.

Tesco – which the celebrity says takes 28% of the poultry produced in Britain - said: “We believe that the chickens we purchase are already produced in systems capable of providing the five freedoms.”

The company has asked shareholders to vote against the resolution which “would in effect commit to restricting choice for our customers and pricing out many of them.

“This would hit our lower income customers very hard, especially at a time when they are already concerned about rising cost.”

Corporate advisory body PIRC has lent its support to Dorset-based Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall.

It said: “We consider the resolution to be in line with Tesco’s stated animal welfare policy commitment and believe the specific request does not represent an attempt to micro-manage the business.

“PIRC considers it constructive that the resolution is not unduly prescriptive, allowing for a relative timeframe and the opportunity for continued engagement between both parties.”

Tesco may also face questions over the working conditions of its employees after a charity claimed that workers at an Indian textile factory supplying clothes to the supermarket earn about 16p an hour.

War on Want said employees at the unnamed site in Bangalore take home an average of less than £1.50 (€1.89) a day for a six-day, 54-hour week. Tesco said the allegations were “unsubstantiated”.

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