Supermarkets like Morrisons are still selling cruelly farmed ‘Frankenchicken’ – are we really OK with that?

People need to know the real price of buying cheap chicken and that’s the horrific treatment of an animal, which is doomed to a short life of suffering from the moment it hatches

Chris Packham
Saturday 14 August 2021 13:28 BST
Chickens died of thirst and dead birds left to rot at suppliers to Tesco, Asda and KFC

Morrisons’ slogan is to “make good things happen”. But is the supermarket living up to its promise?

Days ago horrendous footage was published revealing the extreme suffering of chicken reared for Morrisons’ “Market Street” chicken. The word “extreme” pales in comparison to reality.

“Frankenchicken” – animals bred to grow unnaturally large, unnaturally fast – were filmed on four separate farms collapsing in pain, unable to support their own bodyweight. Some with serious deformities, others with gaping wounds, all of them living in filthy, overcrowded conditions.

This is obviously not the first investigation revealing the nauseating realities of rearing supermarket chicken. But that should make us more concerned, not less. What it tells us is that animal cruelty is happening on a massive scale every day in Britain. And we have to ask ourselves: “Are we ok with that?”

What people need to realise about cheap supermarket chicken is that the real price has to be paid by someone. That someone is the Frankenchicken: an animal which is, from the moment she hatches, doomed to a short life of horrific suffering. The rapid growth makes her a prisoner in her fragile body, but for most of us it’s hard to really understand what that actually means. Let’s try.

Can you imagine being locked into a dirty, noisy building with 40,000 others? Can you imagine feeling searing pain in your legs as they became more sore, deformed and useless? Can you imagine the fear of not being able to ever stand up again? Can you imagine your flesh covered in ammonia burns, with no choice but to lie in piles of excrement day after day? Can you imagine being trampled, and suffering a heart attack alone in the dark?

Chickens look and behave very differently to us. They don’t scream, cry, nor show much facial emotion despite being intelligent, social, sensitive beings. Perhaps that’s why we seem to care less about them. As we have to admit, if they were dogs or cats, then there would be outrage. In fact, I think we would be more angry if they were pigs, cows or any other mammal, because at least then we could hear or see their pain.

But we should care about them and we should pay attention. And if we did pay more attention to their plight, we’d see that this is a huge problem. The often repeated claim that these investigations are only exposing a few “bad apples” simply won’t wash with me. Chickens didn’t naturally evolve to reach 2.2kg in just 42 days. We forced them through generations of aggressive breeding and the resulting creature is so ill-developed that she might as well have no legs to stand on.

It’s common sense, it’s science, but it’s also all about business – if you can produce cheap chicken without the public making too much of a fuss, you can make a lot of money.

So how do they stop us from making a fuss?

Supermarkets spend millions on advertising budgets and have smart people working for them. Morrisons, the company at the centre of this investigation, brands the chickens seen in the footage as having come from “the butchers on Market Street”. This friendly traditional image is generated to hide the reality. But not anymore.

Supermarkets know that we are all becoming more concerned about where our food comes from, and that we will find the truth if we take the trouble to search online. So they think, “Crikey, this is a mess, something must be done to ease our shoppers’ concerns,” and they have two choices – they could be honest and stop the cruelty or cover up the truth with some cunning marketing.

That’s why when you’re seeing images of rosy-cheeked butchers, good old farmers and reading affirmations like “high standards” you’re not going to immediately think, “Oh no, that’s coming from a horrific factory farm.”

In a popular promotional advert explaining how its food is made, Morrisons never once shows a single meat chicken: despite the fact that their numbers dwarf all other farmed land animals by a wide, wide margin. Why would that be?

It could be that it’s hard to show 40,000 bedraggled birds locked into a giant warehouse scrabbling around their own waste in a way that doesn’t come across as utterly depressing. That doesn’t help build the traditional farmhouse image. That’s why it also doesn’t show a single intensive farm – the source of most of its meat. It’s like an oil company advertising the amount it invests into renewable energy – and failing to mention the oil.

So what can we do? Aggressive marketing isn’t new. Supermarkets will always try to sell us their products. But we’re not even asking supermarkets to do that much. We are just saying, “Hey, Morrisons, could you stop selling chickens that can’t walk? Could you just, maybe, stop selling animals that often live in constant pain? Could you stop selling animals which often collapse in their own waste, dying from deformities and starvation?”

In response to the story, Morrisons says in a statement that it has launched a “full investigation” and that it cares “deeply about animal welfare”. And, after all this, I’m happy to say that there is hope and lots of it. M&S recently made headlines by announcing that the company will stop selling Frankenchicken in all fresh produce by autumn 2022 – with the rest of its chicken to follow in 2026.

It’s a monumental win for animals and an example of true leadership in animal welfare. Thank you M&S.

Hundreds of companies including Waitrose, Nando’s and even KFC have committed to stop selling them by 2026. Most French retailers have committed, and some in Denmark have already stopped selling them.

So yes, British retailers are falling behind, but it’s only a matter of time until they catch up. My hope is that Morrisons will actually take a long hard look at this footage. Not dismiss it, not try to write it off as another batch of “bad apples”, but actually look and ask: “Are we really ok with this?”

I have a reputation as a vocal animal advocate, but it’s always with a smile and in good faith. I want progress, not conflict. I’m sure there are lots of good people at Morrisons, and that they really do want to “make good things happen”. But, frankly, there is nothing good about Frankenchicken.

Please join me in urging British supermarkets to stop selling Frankenchicken.

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