Blog: Dean BestHow, for Sainsbury's, chicken is an example of the complexity of sustainability

Dean Best | 21 November 2012

Full credit to Sainsbury's for the ambition and transparency of its corporate responsibility programmes - and its decision to open up its initiatives to scrutiny, a process that continued at a stakeholder event in London today (21 November).

Around 200 industry stakeholders, including FMCG companies, NGOs, media and sustainability experts gathered just outside the City to discuss Sainsbury's progress with its 20 by 20 programme and to challenge the UK retailer on how it will proceed in meeting those targets.

Chief executive Justin King and senior members of the Sainsbury's management team were on hand to, of course, list the retailer's achievements so far but also to chew over how the company can push forward on issues such as waste, consumer engagement and water use.

The retailer also published the results of a report in which it claims "new-fashioned values" are coming to the fore in the UK as consumers manage their budgets but are still interested (and in some areas becoming more so) in ethical issues.

As ever with these events, the issues discussed are complex and take time to analyse and digest (there will be more on just-food's pages tomorrow) but, for now, it is worth relaying one example put forward by Sainsbury's of how complicated pushing a sustainability agenda and deciding on priorities can be.

Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury's own-label business, put forward the example of breeding chickens.

"Chickens are pretty ubiquitous and we all eat it every day. We've become very, very efficient at growing chicken in this country, wheth that's free-range, indoor or whatever. The best we can grow a chicken is 39 days, which is great from a carbon point of view. However, that's not the best option from an animal welfare point of view, it's not the best option from a human health point of view and nutrition because you're giving the chicken a fast-growing diet, which does not necessarily give the chicken the right fatty acid profile."

She continued: "That diet, to grow quickly, is predominantly soya. Is that soya sustainable soya, is it GM, non-GM, has it come from Brazil, has it been associated with deforestation? These things are not single issues and our job along with our suppliers and the experts is to make those judgement calls. When we are trading off human health, animal welfare, carbon footprint, how do we get to the best option?"

Consumers, as Batchelar concluded, are not in the best position to make these decisions. But does this mean Sainsbury's and other retailers should - or will - "choice edit" for shoppers.

Stay tuned to our pages tomorrow for more on this issue.


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