The challenge comes after the RSPCA published a scientific report in 2020 comparing the welfare of three different breeds of fast-growing chicken.
It showed that the fast-growing breeds have poorer health and welfare than a slower growing breed.
Three further scientific studies by the University of Bristol, the University of Guelph and the Royal Veterinary College all support these findings.
Despite the clear scientific consensus and the findings from numerous undercover investigations on broiler farms using these breeds, Defra’s position is that fast-growing breeds can be kept without detriment to their health or welfare, as stated in its responses to The Humane League UK’s pre-action correspondence.
‘The law is clear that farmed animals can only be kept if the breed used will not experience detriment to their health or welfare. The science clearly shows that fast growing broilers cannot be kept without such detriment. It is therefore evident that keeping fast-growing broilers is unlawful.’
Solicitor at Advocates for Animals, representing The Humane League UK in this case
Reporting welfare issues
The case also challenges the ‘trigger system’, Defra’s monitoring system aimed at detecting welfare issues associated with commercial broilers.
The trigger system requires vets at abattoirs to report welfare issues, but only if they occur above a given threshold as set out in Defra’s Code of Practice. The Humane League UK believes the threshold set by Defra is too high.
The high threshold results in countless welfare issues not being reported and dealt with. This is contrary to the 2007 farm animal welfare regulations which state: ‘If the mortality rate of the chickens or the results of the post-mortem inspection are consistent with poor animal welfare conditions, the official veterinarian must communicate the data to the keeper of those chickens and to the Secretary of State without delay.’
Charities have been campaigning for food companies to commit to ending the use of fast-growing FrankenChickens by asking them to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC), which demands slower growing breeds, more space, natural light and enrichment, less painful slaughter methods and third-party auditing.
KFC, Nando’s, Greggs, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose are among the 250+ companies in the UK and EU to have committed to the BCC, but supermarkets including Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Lidl are refusing.