The RSPCA is stepping up the pressure on the intensive poultry sector with a major ad campaign in the national papers today, encouraging consumers to buy higher-welfare chicken.

It follows the publication of new survey results which the charity claims proves that consumers are shunning standard chicken and opting for free range instead.

The poll shows that since shoppers have learned more about standard chicken production in recent TV programmes by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, 73% said they are now buying chicken with a better life.

Almost three out of four people think supermarkets should only sell higher-welfare chicken, such as Freedom Food, free range or organic. RSPCA believes this supports its campaign in January that asked consumers to sign a petition calling on supermarkets to sell only higher-welfare chicken by 2010.

So far, some 53,000 people have signed the petition but to date, no retailer has publicly accepted the RSPCA’s challenge and committed to only selling higher welfare chicken by 2010.

The survey also revealed that 27% of people are willing to pay £2 more for a higher-welfare chicken and 22% would pay an extra £3.

Overall 90% of consumers said they would buy higher-welfare chicken because they are concerned about how they are farmed over their own health and taste. And 70% say they usually buy higher welfare poultry.

Marc Cooper, an RSPCA farm scientist said: “The results of our poll are extremely encouraging and show that the campaign has begun to make a real difference with shoppers.

“However, in reality we know that there is not enough higher welfare chicken available to meet the demand of the 70% of people in our poll who claim to buy it.”

The ads are appearing in The Daily Mirrorand Daily Mail today and in The Metroon Tuesday (4 March).