Leading article: Pecking order

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The Independent Online

The campaign against the terrible conditions that prevail in the factory-farmed chicken industry has generated an overwhelming response. But not all of it has been favourable to the high-profile figures leading the campaign. Jamie Oliver has attracted charges of hypocrisy for his criticism of Sainsbury's, despite the fact that the television chef accepts a lucrative stipend to appear in adverts for the grocery giant. Some feel that Oliver would cut a more impressive figure if he pledged to accept no more money from the chain until it overhauls its poultry-rearing standards.

Perhaps so, but ultimately it is hard to regard this as anything but a sideshow. What matters is the awful treatment of Britain's 800 million broiler chickens and ensuring that measures are taken to improve this. Encouragingly, there has been some progress already. Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the Co-op have promised to transform the welfare of the intensively-farmed birds sold in their stores.

The next challenge is to exert pressure on the wider food industry to adhere to similar animal-welfare standards. Relatively few shoppers still purchase battery eggs, but their use is widespread among confectioners. The ready-meal industry hardly ever uses chicken meat other than the most intensively-reared variety.

For too long the food industry has relied on the tendency of consumers to adopt an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude towards the production of cheap chicken meat. Now that these appalling standards of animal welfare are in the public mind, we must ensure that they remain there until real improvements are delivered.