Tamsin French wants compulsory labels stating how chickens are reared, and her campaign coincides with a European Commission review of poultry meat labelling this summer.
French told FoodProductionDaily.com it is consumers’ purchasing habits that will drive a change in industry practices, so she is donning the chicken suit and embarking on her European tour to raise awareness.
“It draws attention if you’ve got something that’s eye-catching and exciting and it seems to work really well. Kids love it. And people ask why," she said.
“So far everyone I’ve talked to has seemed 100% interested. It’s a very positive campaign. If you look at a chicken in a shop you don’t know where it comes from, and people don’t ask questions. Consumers should have a right to know where it comes from.”
The ‘39Days4Rosa’ tour will start in the UK on Friday, and will pass through 21 EU member states before finishing at the European Parliament in Brussels on September 8.
French, a 23-year-old environmental geography graduate, will spend 39 days on tour because this is the average lifespan of an intensively farmed meat chicken.
Around 90% of meat chickens reared in the EU are from intensive indoor systems, and this gives chickens little or no opportunity to display natural behaviours, she said.
Many meat and dairy labels in the EU currently use confusing language and images to suggest animals were kept in spacious ‘natural’ conditions, even when this is not the case, she added.
European regulations already set out standards for retailers who want to label chicken ‘free range’ or ‘extensive indoors.’
French wants to see labelling terms changed from voluntary and mandatory,and add a requirement that chickens reared intensively indoors must be labelled ‘intensive indoors.’
She believes that – if consumers know how their chicken has been raised – they will adjust their purchases accordingly. In turn, this will create demand for chickens that have been raised under better standards. The industry would then change practices to meet demand, she added.
“It’s the consumer that runs it. Where the demand is, that’s where the production has to be,” she said.
“I do appreciate it’s a huge challenge, but in the long run it will help the farmer, consumer, and animal welfare.”
Method of production labelling already exists for shell eggs, so consumers know which farm system was used. French says this has been an ‘important factor’ in driving an increase in the number of cage-free egg-laying hens across Europe.
She cites European Commission figures that state the proportion of cage-free egg-laying hens in Europe rose from 19.7% in 2003 to 42.2% in 2012 (CIRCABC, European Commission, 2013).
French hopes to see a similar change in the poultry industry if regulations are changed.
She will be joined on her tour by two colleagues, Johanna Olsson, an animal science student, and Sam White, an animal welfare campaigner from Essex.
39Days4Rosa is part of the Labelling Matters campaign, which is run in partnership by Compassion in World Farming, RSPCA, Soil Association, and World Animal Protection.