High Court rejects legal challenge over fast-growing broilers

A High Court judge has rejected a legal challenge brought by animal welfare campaigners over the use of fast-growing broiler chickens for meat consumption.

The Humane League UK, which brought the legal challenge, had argued fast-growing breeds suffer health and welfare problems.

The campaign group claimed conventional meat birds, which they say grow unnaturally large and fast, breach the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007.

See also: Future of fast-growing broiler production challenged in High Court

Defra challenged the claims, insisting there is no scientific proof fast-growing birds suffer health problems as a matter of course.

The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world and all farm animals, including broilers, are protected by “robust animal health and welfare legislation”, it said.

Around a billion chickens are slaughtered for meat in the UK every year and 90% of these are fast-growing breeds. These breeds reach a slaughter weight of 2.5kg at about 35-42 days, in comparison to 16 weeks back in the 1950s.

Judge Sir Ross Cranston examined the claims and ruled that Defra’s policies, which allow the rearing of fast-growing broilers, were lawful.

In a written judgment [PDF] released on Wednesday (24 May), the judge said Defra secretary Therese Coffey had reviewed the science behind fast-growing broilers and had not “acted contrary to her legal duties”.

Mixed reaction

The British Poultry Council (BPC) said it was “delighted” by the ruling, adding that British poultry is half the meat the nation eats and it is “safe, affordable and nutritious”.

BPC chief executive Richard Griffiths said: “Our responsibility as food producers is to ensure the sustainability of a food system that feeds people, tackles social inequalities with quality, affordable food and contribute to a liveable climate for all.

“Our birds are our most valuable asset and, as the bedrock of our national food security, their health and welfare is prioritised as such.”

However, the RSPCA, which provided evidence for the legal challenge, said it was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling.

The charity urged all retailers to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment and meet the minimum broiler ask by 2026, which means providing chickens with more space, natural lighting, and only allows slower-growing breeds of chickens.