Broiler's life is short and nasty, say campaigners

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The Independent Online

Nasty, brutal and short. That is the picture of life for a broiler chicken painted in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' new report, Behind Closed Doors.

What goes on behind those doors, in industrial-scale chicken sheds typically housing tens of thousands of birds, is a frequent mixture of pain, discomfort and disease, the society says. The RSPCA's Caroline Le Sueur says: "Broiler chickens typically end up having considerably less space than an A4 piece of paper to move around in – even less than the space battery hens must have from 2003."

Because broilers are bred for maximum meat yield in the shortest possible time, the report says, they now grow four times faster than egg-laying hens. Birds are routinely given just one hour of darkness in which to rest per day, and about 100,000 die prematurely each day because of the strains that breast meat places on their young legs and bodies.

Ms Le Sueur said: "In 1992 the Government's own advisers recommended the introduction of legal protection for broilers and yet almost a decade later they remain the only major UK-farmed animal without specific laws governing how they are reared. The RSPCA is now urging the Government to take a strong lead in Europe and demand the introduction of Europe-wide protection for these animals."

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said last night: "We share the RSPCA's welfare concerns. The UK wants to see swift EU action on broilers, and at the EU Agriculture Council in November 2000, the Government pressed the Commission to bring forward its proposals as quickly as possible.

"In the meantime, a new UK code on broilers is being finalised and we aim to have this ready for publication in 2002. The RSPCA have been consulted twice during the preparation of this code and their comments taken into account."

He continued: "Defra are currently sponsoring a major research project on stocking density scheduled to conclude in March 2003. Spending on research into broiler welfare will rise from £300,000 to £400,000 next year."