Chris Packham is one of a number of celebrities urging the government to crack down on fast-growing broiler chickens, sometimes known as “Frankenchickens.”
The Humane League and law firm Advocates For Animals are taking the government to court over the modern broilers (those raised for meat), who have been selectively bred to grow around 400 percent faster than they naturally would. Campaigners say that breeding chickens in this way goes against animal welfare laws.
Packham, who was at court for a separate case, joined poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah and TV personality Lucy Watson in holding banners outside the court. They chanted “justice for chickens” as they urged the government to end the use of these “Frankenchickens.”
Opening the case for the Humane League, Edward Brown KC said: “These breeding practices have increased meat yield, and allowed producers to significantly reduce cost, at the expense of substantial welfare detriment.”
He went on to highlight welfare issues, including musculoskeletal and cardiovascular disorders such as leg weakness, ascite (buildup of fluid in the abdomen), breast muscle diseases, as well as higher mortality rates.
He said that these were all “exacerbated as a result of the high-density intensive conditions in which the animals are kept.”
Are Frankenchickens illegal?
Campaigners claim that the use of Frankenchickens in farming is illegal. Despite this, they make up around 90 percent of the more than one billion chickens killed for food each year in the UK.
The Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007 (WOFAR) states: “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.”
According to Brown, Frankenchickens go against this guideline. He cited an RSPCA report, which stated: “fast-growing breeds cannot be kept without detrimental effects to their health and welfare.”
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the defendant in the case. It argues that it has no policy which condones or permits the use of Frankenchickens.
What’s the alternative?
Many campaigners argue that we shouldn’t farm chickens at all, but there are also alternatives to Frankenchickens that some say are a more ethical alternative. In the Netherlands, for example, it’s thought that 100 percent of broiler chickens are a slower growing breed.
The hearing judgment will be released at a later date, and The Humane Society is hoping it will lead mark the beginning of the end for fast-growing chickens.
“The future of billions of animals hangs in the balance. I hope that fast-growing Frankenchickens, who are born and die in grim factories across the country, get the help they desperately deserve,” Sean Gifford, Managing Director of The Humane League UK, said in a statement.
“Fast growing chickens are trapped in their own bodies and are victimized 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.”