Egg on Oliver's face as restaurant owned by chef uses battery chickens

Jamie Oliver might have declared that we should only eat free-range poultry, but now a flagship restaurant owned by the television chef and animal rights campaigner has been found to be serving eggs from battery-farmed chickens.

Staff at the Cornwall branch of Oliver's Fifteen chain bought 360 eggs from battery-farmed chickens when a regular supplier was unable to meet demand. Last Friday a party of twelve farmers and battery egg producers were dining at the beachside restaurant when one of them discovered the eggs on a tour of the restaurant.

The news is a major embarrassment for Oliver, whose one-off programe Jamie's Fowl Dinners, which highlights the industrial methods used in chicken farming, was on air at the time. He immediately said that "heads would roll".

"I am speechless. We have cast-iron rules on what any chef can and cannot buy in all Fifteens," he said. "I can't stop thinking it seems a coincidence this one-off has happened the week my programme airs. I've never been so disappointed. Heads will roll."

Oliver, 32, and fellow chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have been running a television campaign to highlight the suffering of animals in Britain's poultry industry.

He has previously boasted that his restaurants only source produce from farmers who uphold the highest ethical standards. The website of Fifteen Cornwall says its eggs come from Clarence Court in nearby Liskeard, where animals are "allowed to roam freely and given a totally natural diet".

Dave Meneer, the restaurant's chief executive said yesterday the incident was a simple "cock-up". "We ran out of eggs at the beginning of the new year and somebody ordered some but got the wrong type," he said. "We had a party in while Jamie's show was going on and they were farmers and battery egg farmers. They saw two eggs in a tray, remarked they were battery eggs and a young chef gave them one. We were pretty open. It was a mistake."

He said he had "read the riot act" to staff at the restaurant and that Oliver was "clearly pissed off" about the indiscretion. But he resisted Oliver's assertion that "heads will roll".

The restaurant, in Watergate Bay, Newquay, has served more than 120,000 customers since May 2006. It employs 16 trainee chefs from disadvantaged backgrounds and has another 19 at college waiting to take up jobs. Three other Fifteen restaurants – in London, Amsterdam and Melbourne – also employ young chefs from poor backgrounds and a Fifteen Foundation has been launched to raise the £500,000 needed to keep Oliver's apprenticeship scheme running.

Oliver, who two years ago began a hugely popular campaign for healthier food in schools, has reinvented himself as an animal welfare campaigner.

In Jamie's Fowl Dinners, he electrocuted a chicken in front of a live studio audience and showed how young male chicks judged superfluous to the industry are suffocated to death.

He wrote to more than 150,000 Sainsbury's staff last week to reaffirm his commitment to the retailer, which pays him £1.2m a year. A spokeswoman for Sainsbury said yesterday that the incident "was clearly a one-off".

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