Ethical food pledge from the Co-op

THE East of England Co-operative Society is banning the sale of eggs from caged hens with immediate effect, it was announced yesterday.

THE East of England Co-operative Society is banning the sale of eggs from caged hens with immediate effect, it was announced yesterday.

The society revealed its decision as part of a package of measures aimed at promoting an ethical food policy across its operation, which involves 200 outlets and is the largest independent retailer in East Anglia.

The society also plans to convert its entire own-brand hot beverage range, worth more than £16million a year, to Fairtrade, reduce the weight of its wine packaging and ban a further 66 pesticides from its products.

The moves follow a six-month consultation with 100,000 members and customers across the national co-operative movement.

Members from the East of England society and 11 other independent consumer co-operatives, including the Co-op Group, overwhelmingly supported the stores' existing ethical policies and strongly signalled their future priorities for actions.

The three main areas which emerged as of greatest concern were ethical trading (27%), animal welfare (25%) and the environment (22%).

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The consumer-owned organisation says it is the only retailer to have converted its entire own-brand coffee range to Fairtrade, and is now switching its Co-operative tea and hot chocolate range also.

It says the move will benefit producers in some of the world's poorest countries in East Africa and India. As well as receiving a guaranteed price for their crop, they will get a Fairtrade premium to invest in projects of their choice, such as water supplies, educational equipment and medical facilities.

The ban on eggs from caged hens means all eggs on sale at the East of England Co-op are now free range or organic. The co-op broke ranks with the industry back in 1995, when it became the first retailer to label eggs “intensively produced”, a technically illegal step, which led to a change in the law and to eggs being labelled “from caged hens”.

The chain, which launched what it claimed was the world's lightest whisky bottle last year, is dramatically reducing the glass used to bottle 26 different wines, amounting to around 8.2million bottles a year. It estimates the measure will save 450 tonnes of glass a year.

Its latest pesticides ban mean there are now 98 chemicals on its prohibited list.

East of England Co-operative Society chief executive Richard Samson said their members had endorsed their ethical approach to business, and provided them with “some real challenges” for the future.

“We have listened to what they have had to say and are taking action in key priority areas now and not at some far off or unspecified point in the future,” he said.

“On the environment, members have said that they want to see action on packaging and waste, so today we're announcing a major reduction in the weight of our wine packaging, as glass accounts for half of all of our packaging by weight. And, given that members were so supportive of our commitment to remove substances of concern, we are also announcing today that our prohibited list of pesticides for own-brands produces has triple to almost 100.”

Peter Marks, the Co-operative Group's chief exec, added: “More than one in four of our members cited ethical trading as their priority, and in particular support for Fairtrade, so we're converting our entire range of own-brand tea to Fairtrade.

“By the middle of this month all tea produced under The Co-operative label will be Fairtrade. Alongside our Fairtrade coffee and hot chocolate, this means that all our own-brand hot beverages benefit producers in developing countries.”