Most chickens we eat are dangerously heavy for their age

Most chickens we eat are dangerously heavy for their age

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The majority of the 950 million chickens farmed each year in the UK for food are bred to grow so fast millions of them are dangerously heavy for their age, struggle to walk properly and can suffer from heart defects.

The issue - highlighted by Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty on Jamie and Jimmy's Friday Night Feast (27 Jan, C4, 8pm) - is considered the most serious welfare problem facing chickens today, according to the RSPCA.

"If a newborn baby grew as fast as your average supermarket chicken, by her third birthday she would weigh 28 stone."
Kate Parkes, RSPCA chicken welfare specialist
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Take action by buying RSPCA Assured, free range or organic chicken and contact your supermarket via our online form and ask them to stock more higher welfare products.

Chickens farmed under RSPCA Assured - the charity's ethical food label - are bred to naturally grow more slowly which means they are less likely to suffer from leg, heart and other health problems.

At 39 days old a typical RSPCA Assured indoor chicken weighs 1.64kg. That's a third less than a typical faster growing breed which would weigh 2.52kg at the same age.

Fast growth rates a serious problem

Kate said: "Growing too fast is a very serious welfare problem. These birds are far too heavy for their skeletons which means they can struggle to walk and suffer heart defects and other health issues."

In this week's Friday Night Feast, Jamie and

Jimmy look into what life is like for 90% of chickens reared in Britain.

They find out whether chicken shop customers can be persuaded to choose higher welfare chicken and try to get higher welfare chicken into high street chicken shops.

"For me, the basic standard for British chicken should be what's called 'higher welfare', with labels such as RSPCA Assured.
"If chickens live better lives, we get better-tasting chicken."

Jamie Oliver

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Kate said: "I don't think people realise just how much these animals are suffering. It's not helped by clever packaging and dubious farm names which can mislead people into thinking they're buying higher welfare chicken when in fact they might not be." 

The welfare problems don't end with fast growth rates. The majority of chickens:

  • Don't have enough space to move around freely - in fact they're given less space per bird than an egg laying hen kept in a cage
  • Are given very little to do and nothing specific to peck at or perch on
  • Don't have to be given any natural light.

Whilst chicken welfare is a big problem, the RSPCA says the solution is straightforward. Kate said: "Put simply, if a chicken isn't labelled RSPCA Assured, free range or organic, the chances are it won't have been ethically farmed to higher welfare standards.

"We all need to take responsibility to tackle this problem - consumers, supermarkets and the farming industry. The more people choose ethical chicken like RSPCA Assured, free range and organic, the more supermarkets will stock it."

Make a difference

You can also help by putting pressure on supermarkets to stock more higher welfare chicken through our online form.

Watch our video and see an RSPCA Assured member's chicken farm for yourself:

Video: https://vimeo.com/162532626

Why is RSPCA Assured chicken better?

    • RSPCA welfare standards for chickens - used by RSPCA Assured farmers - cover their entire lives from birth to slaughter, including when being transported
    • The standards also cover health, diet, environment and care
    • Fast growing birds are not allowed. The welfare of a breed must be fully assessed by the RSPCA before it can be used
    • RSPCA Assured chickens are given things to perch on and peck at, such as straw bales and vegetables
    • Birds kept indoors must have windows giving natural light