The UK government is facing a court challenge over farmed broiler chickens in the country.
The Humane League, alongside the UK’s first animal law firm Advocates For Animals, launched the case on the grounds that farmed chickens have been selectively bred to grow unnaturally fast.
This, they argue, goes against existing UK legislation that states farmed animals must be kept “without any detrimental effect on their health or welfare.”
“Through changes in law, or in this case, challenging the lawfulness of government policy, there is potential to improve the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of animals in one go,” Claire Williams, Campaigns Manager at The Humane League UK, told Plant Based News (PBN).
She said that there is “no question” that these selectively bred chickens meet the criteria of the above welfare legislations, adding: “And if they don’t, the question we’re asking is – who does this law apply to if not to them?”
More than one billion chickens are killed for meat each year in the UK. Modern broiler chickens (those used for meat) grow 400 percent faster than they did in the 1950s. If a human baby grew at the rate they did, the baby would be the size of an adult tiger at eight weeks old.
These birds – who have been dubbed “Frankenchickens” – will often suffer from broken bones, lameness, and muscle disease due to their unnatural size.
Industrial agriculture has bred them this way to maximize profit, as they are ready to be killed sooner. Factory-farmed chickens in the UK (which make up around 95 percent of them) are generally slaughtered when they are around six weeks old. Free-range chickens will be killed when they are between eight and 12 weeks.
‘Nobody ever voted for this’
A spokesperson for Advocates for Animals told PBN that there has been a “clear recognition” that it is “within the public interest” to conduct legal scrutiny of these chickens.
They added: “Breeding and keeping these animals, and failing to respond to the severe welfare issues they experience, is not what the public expects to happen in a country that so often boasts about its high welfare for farmed animals.”
While The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has argued that it has no policy that condones or permits fast-growing chickens, The Humane League has pointed out that they are industry standard.
“We have got into this situation partly because few people know about it,” Williams told PBN.
“Nobody ever voted for this.”
A hidden industry
UK factory farming is hidden behind closed doors, and often, much of the public simply does not realize the suffering that these chickens go through.
Earlier this summer, it was reported that there has been a sharp rise in the number of US-style “mega-farms” in the UK. There are thought to be over 1,000 of these farms dotted around the country, and some of them house over one million chickens at a time.
Factory-farmed chickens will often be afforded an area no bigger than an A4 sheet of paper. Due to their size and injuries, they will often be unable to regularly access food and water.
Vegan chicken brand VFC recently conducted an investigation into a chicken farm supplying KFC in the UK. It found that there were dead birds on the floors, a number of injured animals, and plastic-wrapped perches that the birds couldn’t access.
“Animal agriculture has done its best to keep these animals, and the appalling way they live, in the dark,” WIlliams told PBN. “Sure, people know that chickens are farmed for their meat, but going by your average supermarket packaging you’d think they lived in lush green meadows with the sun on their backs.”