The British eat more than 700 million chickens a year, most of which are reared in intensive broiler units.
The industry, in purely commercial terms, is a success story producing more than a million tonnes of meat a year to satisfy 92 per cent of domestic demand, but there is a darker side to the industry, according to the animal rights group Compassion in World Farming.
It says the industry is intensely competitive, so costs are pared to the bone because the consumer demands cheap meat.
As market forces have driven down the cost of chicken, the industry has responded by selectively breeding more productive birds.
Modern strains of broiler chickens now grow twice as fast as the equivalent birds of 30 years ago and reach slaughter weight in just 42 days.
But they grow too fast for their legs, heart and circulatory systems to cope, which results in fluid collecting in the abdomen.
They also outgrow their skeletal strength so that, according to some studies, in the last 10 to 15 days of their lives, they suffer from crippling and painful bone deformities.
Peter Bradnock, director general of the British Poultry Meat Federation, denied there were significant welfare problems within the industry.
He said that their were "problems with leg strength" but said the industry had taken steps to bred animals that were capable of withstanding their accelerated growth rate.
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