Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has challenged the government over its broiler welfare proposals, which are currently under consultation.

Due to come into force by 30 June 2010, the new rules are part of a new EU directive which will see a maximum stocking density of 33kg/sq m, with the possibility of increasing the figure to 42kg/sq m providing producers meet prescribed standards.

However, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, together with Compassion In World Farming, has accused DEFRA of endorsing an increase in stocking density. He points to DEFRA’s current code of practice which states a maximum density of 34kg/sq m.

He said that it was the equivalent of adding more than 11,500 extra chickens into a large shed that already holds 50,000 chickens, or allowing up to 21 birds in 1sq m.

Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall called on DEFRA minister Jane Kennedy to exclude this increase from UK legislation.

The celebrity chef delivered his animal welfare message to Mr Dan Skerten, Ms Kennedy’s private secretary, earlier today (Friday 24 April) in the form of a giant postcard signed on behalf of the 159,613 Chicken Out! supporters, 216 MPs who signed the Early Day Motion on chicken welfare and Compassion in World Farming.

He added: “People have become increasingly concerned about the welfare conditions that their food has been raised in. Consumers, especially those on tight budgets, rely on the Government to ensure that the food they have access to is of an acceptable ethical standard.

“The Government’s proposal to reduce welfare standards is not only wrong but ignores this increasing public opinion and most importantly, ignores public interest.”