United Poultry Concerns April 9, 2003


Daily Mail, Sean Poulter, 9th April 2003


The suffering endured by millions of "factory chickens", which are bred to grow unnaturally fast, is to be challenged in a cruelty test case. The birds frequently develop painful leg deformities, together with heart and lung problems, because their bodies cannot cope with the speed of growth produced by decades of specialist breeding. Welfare groups have brought the action because they believe the Government should have blocked the development of these modern breeds, which grow up to four times as fast as a traditional chicken. The rate of growth has reached such phenomenal proportions that farmers have to cut feed rations to slow it down, causing chronic hunger, the groups say.

The legal move follows repeated warnings about the cruelty involved from the Government's own advisers on the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC). In natural circumstances, a traditional chicken breed would take five to six months to reach adult weight of 4.4lb. That is three to four times longer than the 41 days required by the 800million "factory chickens" bred annually in the UK. These broiler chickens are raised on an industrial scale in vast sheds containing up to 20,000 birds. They are kept in constant light and given medicated feed to stem disease outbreaks. Most are vaccinated against salmonella to protect consumers, but millions of birds carry the far more dangerous bug campylobacter, the biggest cause of food poisoning in the country.

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) yesterday revealed that it has filed papers at the High Court seeking permission to challenge the lawfulness of the Government's policies on the fast-growing chickens. The group argues that the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been negligent in allowing the creation of breeds that inevitably endure pain. It is basing its case on the EU's 1998 General Farm Animals Directive, which states that: "No animal shall be kept for farming purposes unless it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype ... that it can be kept without detrimental effect on its health or welfare." The same directive stipulates that animals must be given sufficient food to maintain them in good health and satisfy their nutritional needs.

A CIWF spokesman said: "There is ample evidence to show that fast-growing broilers experience significant suffering. "This is exacerbated in the breeding flock by the restriction of food which leads to some birds being very hungry. "We believe the Government is breaching the EU directive by permitting the use of fast-growing broiler genotypes which suffer from serious health and welfare problems."

Three years ago, the FAWC said studies suggested there had been little or no improvement in evidence of lameness in the birds. The chairman, Dr Judy MacArthur Clark, suggested that virtually all heavy roasting birds would suffer lameness and called for cruelty prosecutions of farmers. However, virtually nothing has been done by the Government since then.

Peter Bradnock, of the British Poultry Council, which represents producers, described the CIWF case as "unfounded". "We take welfare issues and attacks on welfare standards very seriously," he said. "Lameness is not a condition that particularly effects modern chickens. Levels are very low. 'Certainly there is a controlled diet for these chickens, but the birds are growing all the time of their life and they are not starved."

DEFRA said that farms were subject to regular veterinary inspections and it was possible to take action - including prosecutions - against farmers whose chickens were found to be suffering.

United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070

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