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Saturday, 5 January 2008

TV chefs, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, begin a campaign against the cruelty of intensive chicken production

The shameful price of cheap food

Extract from the Telegraph:

"We are living in the era of cheap food, when you can pick up a chicken in the supermarket for less than the price of a pint of beer. But there is a hidden cost: of the 850 million birds reared in Britain every year, only five per cent have had anything approaching a comfortable life. The vast majority are intensively reared, in prison-camp environments.

Now two of our most celebrated campaigning chefs, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver, are about to try to change our minds, and to ensure that the 25 kilos of chicken meat we each consume a year have come from birds that were decently treated.

Starting next week, Channel 4 is devoting a season of programmes to the nation's eating habits. There will be a one-off Oliver special - Jamie's Fowl Dinners - in which he demonstrates the realities of industrial chicken production, while Fearnley-Whittingstall's aptly titled Hugh's Chicken Run will follow his attempts to set up an intensive farm - in the course of which he is reduced to tears.

The way chickens are reared provides an insight into the intensive techniques used to satisfy our demand for cut-price meat and vegetables. In this world, a bird that will feed a family of five can be raised in a mere 39 days, when before the Second World War it would have needed around 20 weeks to reach the same weight. Modern methods see 40,000 birds packed into one artificially lit barn, reeking to such an extent that if the ventilation system failed they would be gassed by their own droppings. Each bird inhabits a space smaller than a piece of A4 paper, and most will have been de-clawed and de-beaked to prevent them damaging their neighbours. To encourage them to feed continuously, they are given only one hour of darkness in each day. They will never experience natural light or see a blade of grass.

These birds are meant to fatten quickly, so exercise is undesirable. Low light levels keep them drowsy, but as they grow they become so densely packed in as to find movement impossible. Even if they had the notion to try to make it to an open door, they grow so fat that their legs often become useless. During the process of catching and transportation, tens of thousands may die, as they are packed together even more tightly than in their sheds. (Chickens need three times as much air as human beings for their size: in a lorry, they may get almost none.)"

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