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Broiler Chicken Welfare Definitely Isn’t Pukka

If you kept your television tuned to BBC One after the England-Switzerland football match on Wednesday night, you might have caught a feature on the Ten O’Clock News about a paper published in last week’s PLoS ONE (although the Beeb didn’t think to mention the journal). Nonetheless, we were impressed that the story was second only to the coverage of some voting I hear is going on in a faraway land…

In a paper entitled Leg Disorders in Broiler Chickens: Prevalence, Risk Factors and Prevention, Toby Knowles and his colleagues at the University of Bristol, the University of Warwick and The Royal Veterinary College, report that the huge increase in growth rates of broiler chickens means more than a quarter of these intensively-reared birds have difficulty walking and suffer from poor leg health.

Coincidentally, the paper was published the day after British supermarket giant, Tesco, announced it was to start selling super-cheap (groan) whole chickens for as little as £1.99 ($4). This is despite efforts from celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver (presenters of the Channel 4 TV shows Hugh’s Chicken Run and Jamie’s Fowl Dinners, respectively, Oliver also infamous for his use of the word pukka) to raise awareness of the terrible living conditions broiler chickens must endure, compared to their free-range counterparts.

In an article in The Daily Telegraph, Knowles said: “The welfare implications of this study are profound. Worldwide approximately 20 billion broilers are reared within similar husbandry systems that are biased towards economics of production and detrimental to poultry welfare.”

In The Guardian, meanwhile, Dr Lesley Lambert, director of research at Compassion in World Farming, worries that consumers will vote with their wallets rather than with their consciences: “Why doesn’t Tesco drop their prices on their higher welfare products and make this affordable to people on all budgets? While Sainsbury’s has committed to massive improvements in animal welfare, Tesco is showing its ethical credentials with this race to the bottom.”

Matthew Fort, food writer at The Guardian, wrote a thought-provoking opinion piece for The Guardian’s Comment is Free section, which has triggered an eggstra-feisty debate.

Other news coverage of the story included:
The Independent –
Tesco hits a new low with arrival of the £1.99 chicken and Janet Street-Porter: Hooray for Henry? Not bloody likely…
BBC News – Anger over £1.99 Tesco chickens
Metro –
Tesco attacked for selling £1.99 whole chickens
Daily Mail –
TV chef’s fury as Tesco sells its chickens for just £1.99
Channel 4 News – Chicken cost falls despite TV campaign

Wired –
Farmed Chickens Can’t Walk; Just Grow Them in Vats Already
Independent Online, South Africa –
‘Cramped, fat and crippled’

Effect Measure went one better and posed every schoolboy’s favourite question, Why can’t the chicken cross the road?

Don’t be a chicken now: Knowles’s article is freely available in full, so why not read the paper yourself and add any comments or notes you may have?

That’s quite enough chicken jokes, although if your pun-tolerance is higher than mine, ChickenJoke.com has a longer list of variations on a theme and Google has many, many more, if you are eggstremely bored.

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