We asked the The Co-op for an interview and they agreed to give us the lowdown on how they broke a few rules to improve welfare for laying hens and how they can help us enjoy a welfare-friendly glass of wine at Christmas. Here’s what they said:

You really can’t say enough good things about the humble egg. It’s packed with goodness, is inexpensive, and a complete lifesaver when you’re pushed for time and need to conjure up a quick meal for the family. At The Co-operative, you can enjoy all these benefits with a clear conscience too. We’re the largest retailer to stock only British free-range or organic eggs, so you can be sure that our eggs come from happy hens. On top of this, we use only free-range eggs in all our own-brand products.

In 1994, we worked alongside the RSPCA to help develop their Freedom Food standard and we became the first national retailer to sell RSPCA accredited Freedom Food products with the launch of our ‘Freedom Food Free Range eggs’. Now almost all of our own-brand eggs (98%) are accredited to the RSPCA scheme, with the remainder being free-range organic. Following our support of RSPCA to bring in an accredited improved welfare standard for laying hens, we felt that more needed to done to address the issue. The following year, we became the first retailer to label eggs as “intensively produced”, recognising the low welfare status of this production method. This was a technically illegal step at the time but one that we felt was in the consumer’s interest. The regulations changed in 2004, when it became compulsory to label the production system that eggs had come from, making it a requirement to say whether eggs came from caged hens, barns or free-range farms.

Over the years we saw our customers’ demand for free-range egg increase, this led us to make the decision to sell only free-range eggs under our own label in 2007. A year later, on the back of the world’s largest consumer poll on food ethics, our Food Ethical Policy, we decided that all the shell eggs we sell in our stores should be free-range or organic. We took that decision because over 96% of respondents asked us to ensure all eggs sold were at least free-range.

At this point, we also committed to a product development programme to ensure we used only free-range egg as an ingredient in our own-brand products, which we achieved in 2010 avoiding use of any eggs that aren’t free-range in our products. Furthermore many people don’t realise that egg white (albumen), as well as other animal derived ingredients, are sometimes used in the production of wines as a fining agent or to help make the wine clearer. This means that not all wines are suitable for people that wish to avoid animal ingredients such as vegetarians and vegans.

We have for a number of years labelled the ingredients used toproduce wine, and having this information has meant we can also highlight where a wine is suitable for vegetarians or vegans. We currently have over 100 vegan wines available in our own brand range. These wines avoid the use of albumen, and other animal derived ingredients such as casein (from milk), gelatine (from pigs) or isinglass (from fish), using other agents such as Bentonite, PVPP or Pectinolytic Enzymes instead. This may sound like a niche product but actually a lot of wine production is moving toward these other agents, it’s just we clearly give our customers the information they need to make an informed decision about the products they’re buying. Finally we share many of the same objectives as the BHWT with our longstanding support for British free-range egg production and pioneering labeling in our customers’ interests. It’s great to see that over the years, free-range eggs have grown from a product for a small number of concerned customers to something recognised and actively purchased by the majority of the British population.

So there you have it. We think the Co-op has done an excellent job in pushing welfare forwards, and being innovative and ahead of the game on products such as wine. Good with food, and it would seem, good with hen welfare too.

Share with your flock