I’m Taking The Government To Court Over Farmed Chickens – Here’s Why

The UK government is under mounting pressure to move away from "frankenchickens"


5 Minutes Read

Plant Based News author and animal lawyer Edie Bowles Edie Bowles is working with the Humane League to take the UK government to court - Media Credit: Supplied

*Warning: this article contains images that some might find upsetting*

I have been fighting for farmed chickens for over four years. I have seen hours of horrific footage over these years. Footage of chickens struggling to breathe, let alone walk, I have seen chickens with open wounds and burns where you can almost feel the sting.

I have seen hundreds of chickens picked up and thrown into crates on their way to slaughter. I have seen trucks drive through chicken sheds, where saying the drivers had little regard for the live chickens still in the shed would be too generous; chickens left crushed, with tyre marks and organs spilling out of their bodies.

I have seen the scale of the issue, yet noticed that each chicken was an individual scared and in pain. Armed with video evidence, I have complained on behalf of my clients to the relevant authorities time and time again and have not seen one prosecution for any of these actions.

Chicken farming and ‘frankenchickens’

Chickens crammed in a huge factory farm in the UK
Open Cages Chicken farming is big business in the UK

Chickens are by far the most farmed land animal in the world. In the UK, more than one billion of them are killed for food each year. While the country claims to have “world-leading” animal welfare standards, the suffering experienced by chickens is unimaginable, and hidden behind closed doors. Modern broiler chickens (those used for food) have been selectively bred to grow as quickly as possible. If a human baby grew as fast as they did, the baby would be the size of an adult tiger at eight weeks. These “frankenchickens,” as they’re known, are ready to be slaughtered at just six weeks. The vast majority of these animals are kept in barns with thousands of other birds, with each being afforded an area of space smaller than an A4 sheet of paper. 

I have fought in the court for chickens to have the most basic of protections, not to have their genes manipulated and turned against their wellbeing, just so a meat yield is bigger in a shorter amount of time, all so the profits stack. I have read study after study detailing the lameness and broken legs of these chicks forced to hold adult sized bodies on their fragile 5 week old legs. I have understood how this has prevented them from reaching food and water, causing starvation and emaciation. I have learnt of their organ failure, as they try to keep up with the rate of their growth. I have seen the court be informed that there is not one study that shows they can be kept without welfare issues and seen that same court find that the government is under no obligation to curb any of this.

The rule, not the exception

A fast growing "frankenchicken" on a UK farm
Open Cages Fast growing chickens are often unable to walk because of their size

What if I told you that the above suffering is not the exception, it is the rule? The above is the life chickens will face in their short lives on chicken farms in the UK. Why? Because they are the most mass produced meat animal in the UK and highly profitable. As a result, they are euphemized in subtle ways to ensure they are seen as things, not sentient creatures. In the industry they are “grown” not farmed, they are “harvested”, not slaughtered. They are seen and treated like plants.

It has been a long and difficult four years. The frustration of realizing that asking for the bare minimum to prevent a life of suffering and agony is still too much of an ask when it challenges the bottom line. I have been exhausted at the sheer scale of the task. I would be lying if I said I have always felt strong in this fight, that I haven’t wanted to focus my energies elsewhere; I have questioned whether I am crazy for caring about chickens when most people don’t, at one point I may have even momentarily believed it. What has felt exhausting and unwinnable at times has only been short lived. I know each chicken matters and I truly believe that in their heart of hearts, so does everyone. How could they not, most people like animals and don’t want them to suffer.

A hidden industry

We all know how chickens should live, we have all seen a happy chicken, whether that be on TV or in person. We have seen chickens roaming, we have seen chickens perching and pecking, I even had the privilege of holding a chicken who fell asleep in my arms. We don’t have a compassion issue, we have a visibility issue, at times this is as a result of wilful blindness, but most of the time it is through a distortion of the reality of how animals are mass produced and farmed. We are shown misleading advertisements depicting happy chickens on farms on TV and food labels. People are simply not shown the truth for the overwhelming majority of chickens.

In spite of the frustration and difficulties, I am optimistic. The truth can only ever be hidden for so long, people become aware and demand change. The laws are enforced and interpreted more favorably and the laws themselves change and improve. This will happen for chickens, it’s a question of when. I only hope that part of that change is in the Court of Appeal later in the year when we continue to fight on behalf of The Humane League over the use of fast growing chickens.

Edie Bowles is the founder of law firm Advocates for Animals.

More like this:

Join The Plant Based Newsletter and we will plant a tree! 🌳

We plant a tree for every signup. You’ll receive our weekly news round-up and be the first to hear about, product launches, exclusive offers and more!

© 2024 Plant Based News is a mission-led impact media platform focused on elevating the plant-based diet and its benefit to human health, the planet, and animals. | Plant Based News Ltd, PO Box 71173, London, SE20 9DQ, United Kingdom.