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Fearnley-Whittingstall continues pecking at Tesco with new label

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall continued to peck at Tesco today with a graphic new food label showing the plight of intensively farmed chickens.

He ran a competition, with charity Compassion in World Farming, to design a mock replacement label for the supermarket giant's standard chicken.

Tesco was voted by supporters of the Chicken Out Welfare Campaign as having the most misleading labelling.

It showed a farmer standing in a field with no reference at all to the fact that the bird was reared indoors.

Fearnley-Whittingstall said: "Labelling is clearly one of the key areas where we believe important changes could easily lead to further gains in the sales of higher welfare chicken.

"The problem for me with standard chicken is that most people who pick it up off the shelf don't know the true story of how it is produced.

"They are starting to know a bit more about it, but there is a lot who think that some of the footage they have seen that may have shocked them somehow is not linked to their friendly supermarket.

"The chances are if they are buying standard chicken, it probably is."

The winning replacement label, by Debbie Cripps from Moulton, Lincs, shows bedraggled hens in a crowded shed and says in large letters that the bird was intensively reared.

Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose campaign is supported by celebrities including Jamie Oliver and Joanna Lumley, is asking supermarkets for labels which clearly state the conditions in which hens are reared.

He will meet the Government, supermarkets and producers at the Poultry Welfare Forum today to address the issues.

The chef has had a rocky relationship with the UK's biggest supermarket, Tesco, which initially refused to discuss chicken welfare with him.

He then became a shareholder to gain a foothold in the firm.

His proposals for improved conditions for hens were rejected last summer.

The launch of his campaign at the end of 2007 sparked a 40 per cent boost in sales of higher welfare chicken, according to COWF.

He said the rise has remained firm despite the credit crunch.

The River Cottage presenter said: "One of the criticisms levelled at the campaign has been that people simply can't afford to pay more for chicken, and people are proving that that is not the case.

"I've always said it is very patronising to say that only the well-off are interested in animal welfare.

"Many people on a very tight budget, once they know what's at stake, would not dream of buying an intensively reared chicken."

He returns to Channel 4 for River Cottage Spring in May.