The British poultry sector is bracing itself for a series of TV programmes and newspaper articles questioning current production methods.
Coverage started with a two-page article in The Independent claiming to reveal new video footage showing welfare abuse on a broiler unit near Leominster, Worcestershire.
Compassion In World Farming, who made the film, claim to have made visits in October and November and found lameness and birds suffering.
However, the unit manager denied any problems and said mortality rarely exceeded 3%.
The article also contains an opinion piece by University of Bristol professor John Webster where he calls for political action on breeding companies to “ban the production of birds unfit for purpose.”
Prof Webster said that he sees no difference between existing law that requires egg producers to provide better cages for laying hens and a law that requires broiler breeders to produce a healthier bird.
However, the industry responded by stating that it does care about the welfare of birds. British Poultry Council chief executive Peter Bradnock said: “This whole idea that the industry is dark, brutal and uncaring is rubbish.”
He added: “The people who are producing these chickens are producing them to what the market wants. All of these production systems are available to consumers and are clearly labelled. There is no subterfuge.”
The NFU echoed Mr Bradnock’s comments in an attempt to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions regarding the production of poultry meat..
Charles Bourns, chairman of the NFU poultry board, said animal welfare was the top priority for poultry producers because their birds were their most valuable assets. Low prices on supermarket shelves did not mean low welfare on farm.
“It’s disappointing that once again the British media is referring to chickens reared for meat as ‘battery’ farmed. This is completely untrue and our members who look after the national flock are fed up to the back teeth of hearing it repeated. Chickens reared for meat in Britain are kept indoors or are free range – they are never kept in battery cages,” they said.
“The UK and the EU lead the world in animal welfare. British poultry farming is a highly regulated sector, both in law and in its assurance standards, which go beyond legal requirements.”
Coverage is set to intensify next week as Channel 4 launches its The Big Food Fight. The channel describes it as a groundbreaking season of programming that aims to raise awareness and encourage debate about food production, animal welfare and healthy eating.
Starting today, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall kicks off with three one-hour long programmes on consecutive nights where he reveals the results of his experiment to show the difference between “high and low welfare systems.” He divides a shed into two with 1500 birds in one-half and 2500 in the other.
And on Friday (11 January), Jamie Oliver will live in front of his guests use demonstrations, films and interviews to highlight key aspects of chicken and egg production.
Channel 4 programmes
Hugh’s Chicken Run – 7, 8 and 9 January, 9pm
Jamie’s Fowl Dinners – 11 January, 9pm