International food conglomerate Nestle is the latest company to commit to an RSPCA-led programme to improve chicken welfare.

More broilers are reared each year in the UK than any other land animal with the RSPCA disapproving of the way many of them are kept.

Nestle joins M&S and Knorr have also signed up to the Better Chicken Commitment, pledging to meet a number of key requirements to improve the welfare of chickens.

These requirements have been drawn up by a partnership of animal protection groups, including the RSPCA – and now the RSPCA is urging other supermarkets and retailers to follow suit and commit to raising welfare standards across their whole supply chain of chicken by 2026.

That means addressing the most pressing concerns in meat chicken production including the use of higher welfare breeds of chickens and providing natural light, more space, enrichment – such as straw bales and vegetables to peck – and perching, as well as adopting more humane methods of slaughter.

Kate Parkes, chicken welfare specialist at the RSPCA said: “More meat chickens are produced than any other terrestrial farm animal in the UK, with around one billion reared each year.

“Globally, chicken is expected to become the largest meat sector in the world by 2020 as other countries also increase production.

“But despite this rapidly growing demand, there has been little progress made in improving the welfare of the majority of chickens bred for their meat.

The scale of suffering within the meat chicken industry is substantial, including the use of fast-growing breeds, which can contribute to painful conditions such as severe lameness and heart defects.

“This January it was 10 years since chicken welfare was highlighted by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and sadly there hasn’t been as much progress as we hoped there would have been.”

She added: “Retailers can often ‘justify’ the selling of chicken reared to lower-welfare standards by citing they are providing both ‘consumer choice’ and a range of price points.

“However, in reality, this gives little choice to consumers on a budget other than to purchase intensively reared chicken. Our polling shows that most shoppers expect all chicken on sale to be higher welfare.”

Polling from the RSPCA shows that 8 out of 10 people who buy chicken meat expect the supermarkets to ensure that all chicken meat they sell is farmed to higher welfare standards.

Kate Parkes added: “This move by Nestle is another great step for meat chickens and consumers.

We are hopeful that it will give other retailers the wake-up call they need to realise that animal welfare cannot go on being ignored.

Shoppers who care about chicken welfare can look for RSPCA Assured labelled products which are on sale in Sainsburys, Aldi, Co-op, Ocado and Lidl.