The sale of cheap chickens raised in appaling conditions should be banned from supermarkets, the RSPCA says today.

The charity is launching a campaign calling on retailers to stop selling the factory farmed birds, which are kept in cramped, dimly lit spaces for the whole of their natural lives.

The campaign coincides with the launch of Chicken Run, a Channel 4 series presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in which the celebrity chef tries to persuade the residents of Axminster, the Devonshire town, to boycot cheap chicken. The series of three programmes, broadcast on 8, 9 and 10 January, explores the horrors of intensive chicken farming and aims to kick-start a debate about mass food production in Britain.

The RSPCA said it wants supermarkets to drop "standard" chicken, which sells for as little as 2 per kilogram, and replace it with free-range and organic varieties. The charity is asking shoppers to pay a little bit extra to ensure their poultry has been bred in decent conditions. It has set a target for retailers to phase out the sale of cheap standard chicken by 2010.

The RSPCA farm animal scientist Dr Marc Cooper said: "If people knew how the average chicken was treated before it ended up as their Sunday roast, they would probably be disgusted. Currently, some supermarkets are selling chicken meat for as little as 2 per kilo this can be less than it costs to produce the bird."

More than 850 million chickens are reared for the poultry market each year in Britain, and less than one in 10 is kept in "high welfare" conditions.