Warning as chickens reared at faster rate

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The Independent Online

British poultry breeders, whose search for cheaper meat has already produced chickens that become too heavy for their own bodies within six weeks, have developed birds that will grow even faster.

British poultry breeders, whose search for cheaper meat has already produced chickens that become too heavy for their own bodies within six weeks, have developed birds that will grow even faster.

A typical six-week-old broiler chicken, which in 1976 weighed little more than 1kg (2.2lb), has in the space of just 25 years ballooned to more than 2.6kg (5.72lb), an increase that has seen cases of lameness and heart failure vastly increase on chicken farms.

The Independent can reveal that two British breeding companies, Ross of Newbridge near Edinburgh and Cobb of Chelmsford, Essex, have succeeded in breeding birds that in six weeks can reach 3kg (6.6lb), which are likely to be in the supermarkets in little more than five years.

The breeders deny the even faster-growing chickens will have more health problems, asserting that welfare difficulties with the birds will lessen.

Animal welfare campaigners and independent scientists dispute this, alleging that widespread distress and premature death suffered annually by millions of broilers are likely to increase still further.

"Of course the welfare problems will get worse," said Joyce d'Silva, of Compassion in World Farming. "These birds are growing so fast already that they are falling apart."

Elliot Morley, the minister responsible for animal welfare, said: "I really think it would be sensible for the breeders to answer current concerns on welfare before they start concentrating on accelerating growth even more."

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