The true cost of cheap chicken

In a tiny space a battery chicken has 40 days to live before it is slaughtered and sold for £2.50 in a supermarket

A covertly filmed video of factory-farmed chickens struggling to walk and enduring distressing and unnatural conditions is set to ignite a growing campaign to improve the lives of Britain's 800 million "broiler" chickens.

The animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) shot the film at a farm which supplies meat to the country's leading supermarkets to illustrate the grim life inside chicken "coops" designed for 25,000 to 50,000 birds.

The grainy video footage shows what looks like a white carpet of thousands of birds shuffling round aimlessly in a dimly lit shed. Some are limping or lifeless. Outside are dustbins stuffed full of dead chicks.

Although their final destination is unknown, the birds were bought by a company which supplies more than 80 per cent of McDonald's chicken nuggets, as well as Morrisons, Sainsbury and the Co-op.

Last night the company, Sun Valley Foods, of Hereford, announced an investigation into conditions at Uphampton Farm in nearby Leominster.

The footage was released to The Independent amid a wave of concern at the treatment of factory-farmed animals in Britain.

This week, the RSPCA called on supermarkets to stop selling mass-produced standard chickens, whose lives are short, featureless and often racked with pain.

Next week, on Channel 4, the chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver will seek to show the ugly reality of cheap chicken and call on supermarkets to improve their conditions, and the public to choose free-range or organic birds.

About 855 million chickens are slaughtered for meat annually in the UK, but as well as being the most popular meat, chicken is the subject of most welfare concern. The majority of birds about 95 per cent are kept indoors, packed densely into vast sheds in what academics and campaigners say are clearly harmful conditions.

Research has found that 27 per cent of these standard chickens have significant or serious walking difficulties because their legs cannot support their abnormally large bodies genetically bred for meat.

Many also suffer burns to the legs because they are standing on sawdust soaked with urine that is only changed every six weeks.

One in 20 birds dies from sudden death syndrome, usually caused by respiratory or heart failure.

CIWF visited Uphampton Farm because its chicks are supplied by Aviagen, one of the three main breeding companies in the world.

During the visits in October and November, activists found many birds in distress. One, seeking to move away from the cameraman, staggered six steps before collapsing. After getting up, it made seven more awkward steps before collapsing again. Several others were reluctant to move when their natural response would have been to do so.

Lesley Lambert, director of research at CIWF, said: "That level of lameness is usually associated with pain. It's quite possible that the birds were in chronic pain.

"There was at least one dead bird on the floor. There was a dusty atmosphere with high levels of excreta."

Ed Roberts, whose son Jonathan runs Uphampton Farm, denied there was a problem with lameness and said mortality rarely exceeded 3 per cent. He said all inquiries should be dealt with by Sun Valley Food, one of the big players in the 2bn-a-year British chicken business.

Sun Valley said it tookits responsibilities for animal welfare very seriously and announced an investigation into conditions shown in the video.

CIWF, however, said conditions at the farm were typical for a large chicken shed and represented a true picture of the state of the industry. These birds are kept indoors for all of their lives, generally little more than a month. They are slaughtered at 39 to 42 days, compared with 56 days for free-range birds and 80 days for organic birds.

Organic birds are allowed to roam free and have perches and other chances to exhibit natural behaviour. However they are three times more expensive than standard chickens.

In three daily one-hour programmes from Monday, Fearnley-Whittingstall will reveal the results of an experiment to show the difference between high and low welfare chicken systems. He divided a shed in two, rearing 1,500 free-range chickens on one side and 2,500 indoor chickens on the other.

Fearnley-Whittingstall said: "We basically want to change the way a chicken is produced in Britain. We think the more people understand, the more they'll be inclined to upgrade the welfare of the birds that they do buy."

The British Poultry Council, which represents the chicken industry, denied that birds were necessarily better off in free-range or organic systems and said it did care about the welfare of birds.

Its chief executive. Peter Bradnock, said, however, that customers were more concerned about price and food safety than welfare. He said: "This whole idea that the industry is dark, brutal and uncaring is rubbish.

"The people who are producing these chickens are producing them to what the market wants. All of these production systems are available to consumers and are clearly labelled. There is no subterfuge."

Have your say

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Goalkeeping howler allows Man City to scrap a draw – but Premier League title is Liverpool's to lose
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
scienceTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
News
Ethical matters: pupils during a philosophy lesson
educationTaunton School's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal