What Are We Eating?

UK - So you only eat free-range eggs, and spend the extra on organic sausages. But what's life really like for the animals that end up on your plate? And how can you be sure that the meat in your shopping bag is cruelty-free? Rob Sharp investigates
calendar icon 7 January 2008
clock icon 3 minute read


Chicken welfare has become the hot topic of the moment. Tonight, celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall launches a drive to improve the living conditions of battery hens in his new Channel 4 programme, Hugh's Chicken Run. Joining him will be that noisiest of food standards campaigners, Jamie Oliver (who appears in the series) together with the RSPCA, which last week took out full-page adverts in national newspapers challenging retailers to sell "higher welfare chicken".

"British farmers produce 855 million "meat" chickens each year, and more than 95 per cent of these are produced indoors in intensive conditions."
The Independent

British farmers produce 855 million "meat" chickens each year, and more than 95 per cent of these are produced indoors in intensive conditions. The chickens, mostly genetic hybrids designed to put on as much weight as possible in a short period, go from newly hatched egg to slaughter weight in around 39 days and, according to Fearnley-Whittingstall, are deprived of anything resembling a natural life. "At the heart of the problem is a bird which is now more or less a genetic freak," he says. "It takes half the time to raise a bird to market weight of two kilos than it did 30 years ago, and in order to do that, you need to have very specialised conditions."

The welfare standards of the 30 million chickens in the UK reared for eggs are scarcely higher. Some 63 per cent of eggs are produced by birds in battery cages, each of which typically measures 50cm by 55cm and houses five birds. These cages do not allow the birds to perch, "dustbathe" (covering themselves in dirt to keep their feathers in condition), or lay eggs in a nest. According to research cited by the RSPCA, this causes hens "immense frustration."

The alternatives to battery farming include the "barn" system, in which flocks of birds are housed in one building. In these systems, the hens have room to stretch and exercise, perches on which to roost and nest boxes in which they can quietly lay their eggs. Another alternative that welfare activists trumpet is "free range", in which hens also have access to a field through pop-holes, and which most closely resemble natural conditions.

Source: TheIndependent

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