Animal protection charity The Humane League UK has legally challenged the British government over its failure to prevent the use of “franken-chickens”.
“Franken-chickens” are broiler chickens who are bred and raised for cheap supermarket meat. Farmers make the birds grow so fast to slaughter them at just five weeks old; the animals are still babies in an unnatural, fully grown body.
They typically suffer muscle disease and heart problems, with some so overweight that their legs break beneath them.
A 2020 report by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) stated these broiler chickens “could be considered as having a life not worth living.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) currently allows this kind of breeding of chickens, but The Humane League UK argues that this is against the animal protection law.
The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 states that “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.”
People think that because breeding chickens to grow unnaturally fast is standard practice, it is therefore legal, Pru Elliott, senior campaigner at The Humane League UK, said in a statement. “But looking at the legislation, it’s crystal clear that the law is being flouted in standard chicken production.”
“We believe Defra has an unlawful policy in permitting the use of these breeds and should instead be stipulating that they cannot be used,” Elliot said.
“We also believe they have an unlawful monitoring system in place that fails to detect the scale of welfare issues associated with fast growing chickens,” she added.
“The law is clear that farmed animals can only be kept if the breed used will not experience detriment to their health or welfare,” solicitor Edie Bowles, who is representing The Humane League UK in this case, said.
“The science clearly shows that fast growing broilers cannot be kept without such detriment. It is therefore evident that keeping fast growing broilers is unlawful.,” Bowles added.
Better Chicken Commitment
This legal action comes as the latest in a long-standing campaign by The Humane League, Open Cages, Animal Equality, and the RSPCA, to end the use of “franken-chickens”.
UK leading supermarkets Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Coop, Iceland, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl, sell the flesh of these birds, who, as well as being overgrown, are raised in overcrowded sheds.
Together with TV presenter Chris Packham, these animal protection groups have urged food companies to sign up for the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC), which aims to reduce suffering for farmed chickens.
As well as ending the growth of chickens at unnatural fast speed, the BCC would like to see that factory-farmed birds are given more space, natural light, and enrichment.
The campaign so far has seen more than 250 companies, including Marks and Spencer and Waitrose, publicly announce that their farms will meet the BCC standards by 2026.
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