Morrisons tried to silence me over chicken cruelty, employee claims

Exclusive: ‘They tried to pressure me to stop posting information in colleague groups,’ says worker who shared Chris Packham posts

Jane Dalton
Thursday 10 June 2021 03:10 BST
Vets conclude that supermarket chickens are bred to suffer

A Morrisons employee who tried to raise what he claims is the supermarket’s poor record on chicken welfare says the supermarket has tried to silence him.

Animal-welfare organisations have launched a campaign called “#MorrisonsMisery”, drawing attention to what they say is “horrific” animal suffering at supply farms.

The supermarket is accused of using “Frankenchickens”, a breed of bird genetically engineered to grow exceptionally rapidly, so that its legs and internal organs cannot keep up with its weight, leading to conditions such as broken bones and heart disease.

Doug Maw, who works at the chain’s Bognor Regis branch, said he raised the subject in an internal Facebook group because he thought colleagues had a right to know about the campaign.

He shared posts from naturalist Chris Packham that said birds collapse under their own weight and are forced to lie in their own waste.

As a result, Mr Maw said, he was called into a meeting, questioned and discouraged from continuing to raise the issue. His posts were “inappropriate”, he was told.

The supermarket says it urged him to post on a different internal Facebook page.

“They tried to pressure me to stop posting information in colleague groups, despite my not breaching any company guidelines on social media. I refused,” he claimed.

“They repeatedly asked if I was proud to work for Morrison’s and, if not, then why did I work there,” he told The Independent.

“I told them that if you want to be proud, then you strive to be better.”

Last month campaigners said that when supporters started pressuring Morrisons over its record on chicken welfare, the supermarket removed the facility to comment from its Facebook page, restricted Twitter comments and blocked emails to its chief executive .

Mr Maw, a former poultry farmer, now vegan, said his subsequent posts had been blocked, but he replied to other people’s posts with information on the treatment of chickens.

He said Morrisons staff were “spoon-fed good-news stories through internal mail and social media”.

But he added: “I felt they don’t want any dissent and will pressure people to be quiet.

“But I am not afraid to speak my mind. I’m not afraid to lose my job. My ethics are far more important to me than any job.”

A Morrisons spokeswoman said: “We encourage discussion and debate among our colleagues. We did not silence Doug. In fact, we encouraged him to post his views on Morrisons’ general colleague Facebook page, which hosts a range of discussions on a broad array of topics, rather than on our store-specific Facebook site which is focused on local and operational issues.”

Mr Maw spoke as a report claimed the UK supermarket sector is lagging behind the restaurant and manufacturing sectors on how they treat chickens.

The Humane League document says chicken reared to the standards of the “Better Chicken Commitment” (BCC) accounts for only 5 per cent of that sold in supermarkets.

And higher-welfare chicken is given a “dramatic” mark-up in price.

By contrast, all the major supermarkets in France have committed to the BCC and most have gone beyond it, the report says.

“Supermarkets are offering little alternative to the factory-farmed chicken they put on their shelves alongside big mark-ups on higher welfare. So it’s no surprise most chicken bought is factory-farmed. Yet this is at odds with the nation’s attitudes to animal welfare,” said Vicky Bond, managing director of The Humane League UK.

A report by the organisation last year showed that more than eight in 10 standard supermarket chicken breasts were affected by white-stripe disease.

Morrisons says all its chicken already meets seven of the nine BCC standards and is raised to above Red Tractor standards.

A spokeswoman said: “We are also the only retailer in Europe to ask our fresh chicken suppliers to require chicken to be born into the barn in which it will be raised by 2025; 80 per cent of our fresh chicken meets this standard already.

“We also actively monitor for any malpractice in our supply chain; we will never tolerate it or look the other way. And if we ever find it, we will act swiftly and decisively.”

The company says from next year it will sell a range that meets all nine BCC standards.

Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said retailers took their responsibilities to animal welfare seriously, ensured it was a key part of production standards for meat and worked to ensure all ranges were “accessible and affordable”, adding: “Our members work rigorously with trusted suppliers to ensure high welfare standards are upheld.”

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