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What came first, Jamie? The controversy over the chicken, salmon or lamb?

Animal rights groups accuse the chef of hypocrisy over factory farming

Jonathan Owen
Sunday 06 January 2008 01:00 GMT
(Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Jamie Oliver has been branded a hypocrite for accepting money from the high street giant Sainsbury's despite his claims that the conditions in which most supermarket chickens are reared are "morally wrong". The celebrity chef attacks the way hundreds of millions of chickens are factory farmed each year in a Channel 4 programme to be shown on Friday.

During Jamie's Fowl Dinners, he criticises the methods used to breed chickens to satisfy the appetite of supermarkets for cheap meat. "I believe the conditions under which standard eggs and chickens are reared are morally wrong," he says, and warns that, unless people change the way they shop, "we might not have a poultry industry in 20 years' time".

But animal welfare campaigners condemned him for "profiting from animal cruelty" and called on him to step down from his multimillion-pound campaigns for Sainsbury's. "Jamie Oliver has a lucrative contract with Sainsbury's, a company which profits handsomely from factory-farmed chickens and the rest of the obscene farm animal production industry," says Animal Aid's director, Andrew Tyler. "If he's going to lecture the public he needs first to stop profiting from animal exploitation."

Last night a spokesman for the chef hit back: "Jamie has always championed free-range, organic food. If you're in the position where you can influence supermarkets and consumers, is it better to ignore the situation or to work from within?" He added Mr Oliver is having "conversations" with supermarket bosses on factory-farmed products.

A Sainsbury's spokesperson said: "We are aware of welfare standards and are constantly striving to improve them." The supermarket has pledged its free-range and organic chicken and duck products will meet or exceed the RSPCA's Freedom Food standards by the middle of this year. But no such pledge has been made regarding the "standard" chickens that account for 80 per cent of the 90 million chickens they sell every year.

The charity's criticism is the latest in a series of controversies to engulf Mr Oliver in the past few years. In 2004 fellow foodie Clarissa Dickson Wright accused him of being a "culinary whore" over his promotion of farmed salmon. And the following year he was lambasted by animal groups over a Channel 4 programme in which he cut the throat of a still conscious lamb.

Mr Oliver's friend Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall also has a series starting tomorrow on Channel 4 Hugh's Chicken Run that will expose the conditions in which cheap supermarket chicken is produced.

Sainsbury's, Waitrose and the Co-op said yesterday that they would transform the welfare of intensively-farmed birds. The announcement came a day after reports of undercover footage exposing the horrors of a factory farm in Leominster, Herefordshire.

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