Jamie Oliver Campaigns For Chicken Welfare
Two of Britain's best-known chefs are mounting a campaign to persuade people not to eat battery-reared chickens.
Jamie Oliver has made a television programme on the appalling conditions in which many of the birds live and hopes to encourage supermarkets to invest in better-treated birds such as free range or organic.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, his friend and fellow chef, has also made a series exposing the horrors of battery farming.
They hope their combined efforts will draw attention to the suffering of the birds and the poor quality of the meat.
In some supermarkets, entire chickens can be bought for as little as £2.50, while recent figures from the RSPCA showed that only five per cent of the birds in Britain were kept in high welfare conditions.
Oliver, who campaigned against unhealthy school dinners in 2005, examines the poultry industry in his one-off programme Jamie's Fowl Dinners on Channel 4 on Jan 11.
In front of invited guests, he will show a series of films and interviews explaining how the birds are killed and their brutal living conditions.
At one stage he examines the 39-day life of a battery-reared chicken and says: "It's disgusting, the smell is awful. Why would anyone want to eat these birds, who are walking in their own faeces."
Oliver's aim is to get rid of the cheapest chicken meat.
"My ambition is to change the 95 per cent of Britain eating standard chicken; to get them to step up to a better-welfare bird. I would say: buy British and buy the best welfare bird you can afford."
High-welfare birds are not necessarily free range or organic but they are given more space, a place to perch, better lighting and longer nights.
Oliver's campaigning success in the past has been formidable. His drive to rid school canteens of unhealthy food - Turkey Twizzlers were a particular target - led Tony Blair's Government to pledge an extra £280?million over three years to improve food standards.
In Fearnley-Whittingstall's three-part Hugh's Chicken Run, which is on Channel 4 starting on Jan 7, the chef tries to ensure that more than 50 per cent of chicken bought and eaten in his local town - Axminster in Devon - over the space of a week is free range.
That includes all curry houses, burger bars and pubs in the area.
In seeking to understand the nature of chicken farming, he rears his own battery chickens alongside free-range birds.
This week, the RSPCA urged shoppers to pay a little extra to ensure that the poultry they bought had been bred in decent conditions and called for retailers to sell only higher welfare chicken by 2010. Of the 855 million chickens reared for their meat in Britain every year, the majority are kept in cramped, dimly-lit spaces.
Marc Cooper, an RSPCA farm animal scientist, said: "If people knew how the average chicken was treated before it ended up as their Sunday roast, they would probably be disgusted."
© 2007 The Telegraph