A legal attempt to end the factory farming of millions of broiler chickens has failed in the High Court.
The move, by the group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), was thrown out by Mr Justice Newman, who ruled that there had to be a balance between the needs of animals and intensive farming's commercial interests.
The case was based on allegations by CIWF that modern broilers birds raised for meat rather than eggs grow so quickly that the ones used for breeding have to be starved for weeks on end. This was in breach of EU law, CIWF said.
But the judge rejected their claim, saying he could not extend the law because of the "stark reality of the position and status animals have in the human food chain".
He said CIWF had alleged that hunger was being deliberately inflicted on the chickens for commercial gain. "But animals are exploited by humans for any number of purposes including, in a number of different circumstances, commercial gain," he said.
The failure of the case means that 800 million broiler chickens will continue to be raised every year in Britain in conditions which animal welfare activists consider unacceptable, and which are an embarrassment to the Government.
"Modern broilers have been pushed through selective breeding to reach their slaughter weight in just 41 days, which is twice as fast as 30 years ago," CIWF said in a statement yesterday. "The bird's legs fail to keep pace with the rapidly growing body and often buckle under the strain of supporting it. As a result, each year millions of UK broilers suffer from painful leg disorders.
"The breeding flock cannot be allowed to grow so quickly as many would die before reaching sexual maturity and others would be too unhealthy to breed. To slow down their growth rate, the industry feeds them on such tiny rations that the birds suffer from chronic hunger.
"In its court case, CIWF argued that this breaches the law requiring animals to be given enough food to promote a positive state of well-being.
"In ruling that this law is not being broken, the court ignored the conclusion of the EU's Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare that 'the severe feed restriction ... results in unacceptable welfare problems'.
"It also ignored evidence that the industry gives the breeding flock only one third to eat of what is given to ordinary chickens."
Mr Justice Newman had been told at the hearing last month that the EU 1998 general farm animals directive includes clauses which prohibit keeping animals for farming purposes unless it can be done without detrimental effect on their health or welfare.
CIWF had brought the case against the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which denied that it had failed to protect farm animals and to adopt apolicy of prosecuting cases where broiler breeder chickens are subjected to restrictive feeding practices.
The organisation was refused permission to take the case to the House of Lords but can petition the law lords directly. CIWF was also ordered to pay two-thirds of Defra's costs and faces a bill for legal fees estimated at more than £50,000.
"We are horrified at the court's decision, which allows factory farming to continue to inflict horrendous suffering on millions of chickens," said Joyce D'Silva, CIWF's chief executive.
"We will now be lobbying vigorously for the forthcoming EU directive on broilers to ban the use of fast-growing chickens, which leads to many of the birds suffering from painful leg disorders and to the breeding flock being chronically hungry for long periods.
"We also urge consumers to boycott factory-farmed chickens and to only buy free-range or organic slow-growing birds."Reuse content