Until we improve our treatment of chickens, we have no right to call ourselves a nation of animal lovers

Chris Packham
·3-min read
<p>Frankenchickens live a short life of misery and pain, on a filthy, crowded factory farm</p> (Open Cages)

Frankenchickens live a short life of misery and pain, on a filthy, crowded factory farm

(Open Cages)

We are often told that the UK is a nation of animal lovers. I certainly am. Sid and Nancy, my two beloved poodles, are like members of the family. Cunningly, dogs evolved to illicit food, shelter and care from us humans, and I for one am happy to oblige. Like most people with furry friends in their living room, I would do anything to protect them.

But there is another animal we have a daily relationship with that vastly outnumbers our much loved cats and dogs. An animal we have a deep connection with, but very rarely see. That animal is the Frankenchicken.

Ninety-five per cent of people in the UK consume chicken. We eat so much of it that over one billion chickens are reared in the UK each year to meet the demand. But where are they?

People eat chicken every day without much thought of where it came from. Supermarkets like Tesco, Co-op and Morrisons certainly don’t make it clear on their packaging. In fact, it seems to me that they mislead consumers to think that these birds live good lives on “trusted”, hygienic farms where their needs are cared for.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The life of a typical supermarket chicken is a nightmare. It’s a short one of misery and pain, on a filthy, crowded factory farm hidden from sight somewhere on the outskirts of a town. The contrast with the life of a wild, healthy chicken couldn’t be more stark.

These Frankenchickens are forced to grow so fast that their bodies simply collapse under their own weight. They routinely suffer debilitating lameness and sometimes even heart attacks. They’re killed at just 5-6 weeks old and can spend their final days in agony. Productivity is paramount. And happiness? Utterly unimportant.

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After years of campaigns and the acquisition of horrific undercover footage, I feel moved to act because these supermarkets have failed to. Cheap chicken is the biggest cause of animal cruelty in the UK, and these supermarkets are doing almost nothing to address it.

The “Better Chicken Commitment” is a globally recognised animal welfare initiative. It requires a company to meet higher welfare standards for all their chicken by 2026, such as using slower growing breeds and giving the animals far more room. In fact, government insiders recently said that they would even be phasing out Frankenchicken breeds completely.

Despite Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, KFC, all major French retailers, and 200 companies across Europe signing the commitment, most of our British supermarkets have failed us. Companies like Tesco, Co-op and Morrisons have chosen to continue to sell chickens who are suffering in the most extreme ways. But still they have the nerve to claim high standards.

British people should be able to trust supermarkets like Tesco, Co-op and Morrisons to ensure the food they buy is sustainably sourced and free from extreme cruelty. In fact, a massive 89 per cent of people think these chickens should be better protected than they are now. So that trust is being betrayed.

This is why I have launched my own petition calling on our retailers to stop selling suffering. While I welcome signs that the government is seeing the cruelty of Frankenchicken, the time has come for our supermarkets to take animal welfare far more seriously and reflect who we really are in this country. A nation that detests cruelty and loves the other species of animals that we share this planet with.

Join me in calling on our supermarkets to act now by signing my petition.

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