RED TRACTOR has approved the Hubbard Redbro for its enhanced welfare chicken scheme, a breed that is also compliant with the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC).

The move is likely to give UK restaurants and retailers more confidence in stocking slower-growing lines of chicken in line with the BCC.

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Red Tractor said it had applied a rigorous evaluation of the new breed, incorporating inputs from independent experts, the genetics company, food production experts and Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) before approval.

The Hubbard Redbro breed is described as an ‘intermediate growth’ bird that fits between conventional broilers and birds like the Hubbard JA787 that is geared more to extensive systems, explained the firm’s Paul van Boekholt.

“In 2017, when what was then the Broiler Ask (now the BCC) was initiated, we identified the gap between organic, free-range, existing extensive indoor and conventional systems as a target for a new breed,” he told Poultry Network.

The gap was only getting bigger

And as genetic improvements drive better conventional broiler performance, that gap was only getting bigger, he added.

“With the Hubbard Redbro, we have developed a bird with high welfare outcomes, but with a lower economic and environmental footprint.”

According to Hubbard’s breed standards, producers can expect a 9pt improvement in feed conversion ratio (FCR), higher breast meat yield and faster growth while maintaining similar welfare characteristics to the JA787, the company says.

Red Tractor support

It has won the support of the BCC, as well as CiWF and Red Tractor’s Enhanced Welfare module, which was launched in 2020 as a response to more signing up to the BCC.

CiWF’s director of food business, Tracey Jones, said Red Tractor approving the breed would “undoubtedly help move the market for higher welfare chicken forwards”.

Red Tractor chief executive Jim Moseley said: “Over 95% of chickens in the UK are Red Tractor assured, which puts us in a unique position to provide a sustainable solution for tackling industry challenges.

‘Important step forward’

“As the only UK assurance scheme that aligns with the BCC, our decision to include the Hubbard Redbro on our Enhanced Welfare module breeder lists is an important step forward for the poultry industry.

“Its superior environmental and economic credentials will be a boon for food businesses seeking to meet the requirements of the BCC.”

RSPCA Assured, another BCC-compliant scheme retailers may wish to align to, chose not to approve the Hubbard Redbro after its own evaluation.

A spokesperson declined to give the exact reason it would not approve the breed but said in a statement: “Unfortunately, the Hubbard Redbro breed did not satisfy the required criteria to be accepted for use under the RSPCA standards for chickens.

“However, we acknowledge that it still has improved welfare characteristics compared to the most commonly used meat chicken breeds and, in this respect, represents a significant step forward for chicken welfare overall.”