An animal welfare charity has taken the government to court over intensive poultry breeding, demanding supermarket shelves to be stripped of “monstrous” ‘Frankenchickens’.
The Humane League UK, represented by Advocates for Animals, says around 90% of one billion birds raised for meat in the UK are dubbed as ‘frankenchickens’ - and go from egg to slaughter in 35 days.
The group claims Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey has unlawfully failed to properly monitor and prosecute farmers for keeping such chickens, adding that the conditions the birds are kept in are so poor that 70% of ‘broiler chickens’ die before they make it to the slaughterhouse..
The chickens are raised at an unnatural pace, some 400% faster than chickens would normally grow. The giant birds gain around 100g in weight a day which leaves them destined for short and painful lives, and crippled with several health conditions.
They can reach a weight of 2.2kg in 35 days, 12 weeks faster than 50 years ago, and many are kept in unsanitary conditions.
Sean Gifford, Managing Director of The Humane League UK, said the chickens are “born and die in grim factories across the country” and are “victimised by constraint pain and illness”.
TV personality Lucy Watson, writer Benjamin Zephaniah and naturalists Chris Packman and Megan McCubbin supported the Humane League’s legal challenge, joining other protesters at the High Court on Wednesday (3 May).
‘We should not be treating animals like this’
Regulations currently state that animals can be kept for farming purposes if there isn’t a detrimental effect on their health or welfare.
The league argues that the growth of ‘frankenchickens’ breaches the welfare of farmed animals regulations.
Zephaniah said: “Chickens are conscious animals, who like to play, forage and explore. Decades of selective breeding have turned them into monstrous frankenchickens who can barely carry their own weight, and who lie in crowded barns, being burned by their waste. We should not be treating animals like this.”
Mr Gifford added: "Fast-growing chickens are trapped in their own bodies and are victimised by constant pain and illness. We want a future where animals are treated with compassion and respect. That is a future where Frankenchickens no longer exist.”
Charities have been campaigning for food companies to commit to ending the use of fast-growing Frankenchickens asking them to sign up for the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC).
The BCC demands slower-growing breeds, more space, natural light and enrichment, less painful slaughter methods and third-party auditing.
KFC, Nando’s, Greggs, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose are among more than 350 companies in the UK and EU to have committed to the BCC.
Edward Brown KC, representing The Humane League, said the charities and the government disagreed on the interpretation of a specific paragraph of the animal welfare law.
It reads: “Animals may only be kept for farming purposes if it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of their genotype or phenotype, that they can be kept without any detrimental effect on their health or welfare.”
Mr Brown said: “There does appear to be a legal uncertainty, possibly a legal no-man’s-land, and the consequences of that is that the policies, practices and enforcement approach of the secretary of state are all based on an anterior legal error as to what the legal obligations are.”
The government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has argued that it has no policy that condones or permits the use of ‘frankenchickens’.
A spokesperson said: “We are proud to have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. All farm animals are protected by robust animal health and welfare legislation.
“This sets out detailed requirements on how farmed livestock, including meat chickens, must be kept. It is also an offence to cause any captive animal unnecessary suffering.”