Tesco were yesterday celebrating the "99p per head roast" as a victory for cash strapped consumers. Animal welfare groups and farmers, who are paid 2p for a chicken, were less pleased.
Dr Lesley Lambert of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) fond the news "depressing" while Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who has just run a high profile campaign highlighting the appalling condition of industry standard broiler hens, told the Ecologist:
“It’s despicable. Since our programmes and campaign, Tesco stores all over Britain have been selling out of free range chicken. Our campaign supporters have been texting us pictures of the empty free range shelves. And Tesco have even put up signs apologizing for the lack of supply. They should be helping their farmers to convert to free range. But instead they are entering a new phase of the price war on cheap chicken. It can only lead to more birds suffering. Consumers with a conscience will certainly want to boycott these birds.”
Tesco's announcement was followed swiftly by a DERFA and University of Bristol report that claimed broiler hens suffered health problems that shocked consumers who were ill informed about what they were being sold.
Doctor Toby Knowles of Bristol University's Division of Food Animal Science, who carried out the research with colleagues, said that worldwide approximately 20 billion broilers are reared within husbandry systems that are "biased towards economics of production and detrimental to poultry welfare".
Dr Knowles said that broiler chickens have been subject to intense genetic selection and "in the past 50 years broiler growth rates have increased by over 300 per cent from 25g per day to 100g per day…..Our research shows that the primary risk factors associated with impaired locomotion and poor leg health are those specifically associated with rate of growth."
The researchers studied broiler flocks belonging to five major UK producers who together account for over 50 per cent of UK production. At an average age of 40 days, over 27.6 per cent of birds showed poor locomotion and 3.3 per cent were almost unable to walk.