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Frankenchickens are bred for a life of suffering to put cheap meat onto the aisles of supermarkets and fill the burger buns of fast-food restaurants. At just 35 days old, these chickens reach maturity, gaining up to 100g a day. They are often unable to walk and at a much higher risk of disease and death.
Fighting to protect the welfare of chickens, The Humane League UK, an animal protection charity, argue that the widespread use of Frankenchickens contravenes welfare legislation. The charity has now launched a judicial review against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Frackenchickens are chickens that are selectively bred to grow unnaturally large, unnaturally fast. As a result, these animals’ breast muscles grow so large, so quickly, they are unable to stand while forced to endure filthy and crowded conditions. These birds suffer greatly as a consequence, and their entire life is one of pain. The name ‘Frankenchickens’ refers to these birds’ severe physical disfigurement.
In 2020, the RSPCA investigated the welfare of three different breeds of fast-growing chicken and published its findings in its chicken trial report ‘EatSitSufferRepeat.’ The trial report revealed some deeply disturbing facts about these chickens. These breeds have a much higher mortality rate and poorer leg, hock, and plumage health. Most of these birds are also affected by breast muscle disease.
Commenting on the extreme suffering endured by these animals, Chris Packham, a passionate animal advocate campaigning to end the farming and selling of Frankenchickens, said: “What people need to realise about cheap supermarket chicken is that the real price has to be paid by someone. That someone is the Frankenchicken: an animal which is, from the moment she hatches, doomed to a short life of horrific suffering.”
He added: “The rapid growth makes her a prisoner in her fragile body, but for most of us it’s hard to really understand what that actually means. Let’s try.”
Back in 2007, the UK government introduced the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations. This legislation outlines protective measures and sets minimum standards for all farm animals. Included within this legislation is the provision that animals may only be kept for farming purposes if it can be “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”.
Under this piece of legislation, the force-feeding of male ducks to produce foie gras was banned. That said, there are still a plethora of harmful farming practices that are legal in the UK, including factory farming, debeaking, tail docking, and farrowing crates.
Fortunately, there are some efforts being made to improve the lives of animals in the UK. Under the government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare, it has introduced the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which is currently awaiting report stage in the House of Lords. If passed, this bill will formally recognise animals as sentient beings capable of experiencing suffering and pleasure. However, animal welfare campaigners have expressed concerns about the performative nature of this legislation.
Outside of parliament, initiatives like the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) are also pushing for better conditions for chickens. The BCC demands slower-growing breeds, more space, natural light and enrichment, less painful slaughter methods and third-party auditing. Chains such as KFC, Nando’s, Greggs, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose are among the 250 plus companies that have already signed up, but that’s not to say that other companies aren’t failing to protect the welfare of chickens.
Just recently, supermarket chain Morrisons was discovered to be selling Frankenchickens following an investigation. The meat sold in its supermarkets and supplied by Cranswick chicken factory was also labelled as Red Tractor approved, a label which is meant to certify the high standards of rearing and farming.
On 31 August, The Humane League UK announced that it had filed a judicial review against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The case asks the court to determine whether Defra’s permitting of Frankenchickens is in breach of the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007.
The case also challenges Defra’s monitoring system, which was created to detect welfare issues in chickens raised for meat. The trigger system requires vets at abattoirs to report welfare issues, but only if the issue surpasses a given threshold as set out in Defra’s Code of Practice. In its case against Defra, The Human League argues this threshold is too high. As a result, many welfare issues are not reported, leading to extreme and continuous animal suffering.
Commenting on the case, Edie Bowles, Solicitor at Advocates for Animals, representing the charity, said: “The law is clear that farmed animals can only be kept if the breed used will not experience detriment to their health or welfare. The science clearly shows that fast growing broilers cannot be kept without such detriment. It is therefore evident that keeping fast growing broilers is unlawful.”
Pru Elliott, The Humane League UK, added: “There’s an assumption that because intensively breeding chickens to grow unnaturally fast is standard practice, it is therefore legal. But looking at the legislation it’s crystal clear that the law is being flouted in standard chicken production.”
While it is certainly positive news to hear that big brands are making an effort to improve the living conditions of chickens, real and meaningful change needs to happen to guarantee the end of the horrific suffering endured by these animals.
Animal welfare minister Lord Goldsmith says that the UK government is pushing for the “highest standards of animal welfare anywhere in the world”. Enforcing the ban on keeping animals if their breeding causes “detriment to their health and welfare” is an important step towards this.
You can sign the petition urging supermarkets to join the BCC here.
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