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P R E S S . R E L E A S E . 25/11/01

'Disgrace' of UK's factory chicken farms - McDonald's continuing cruelty to animals exposed

The first article (below) from The Independent newspaper exposes the outrageous conditions for UK factory farmed chickens raised for McDonald's and the meat industry generally. The second article is about the banning of an informative TV advert about these very conditions: described by the commentator as 'the most pressing animal welfare issue in Britain'.

800 million chickens each year are crammed into grim disease-ridden broiler sheds (with an average space each of less than an A4-size piece of paper), unnaturally fattened up suffering leg injuries as a result, and killed after only 41 days. The birds are reduced to mass-produced meat machines to boost the profits of the companies involved, like McDonald's.

This is despite the damning McLibel High Court judgment in 1997 against McDonald's for being 'culpably responsible for animal cruelty' which particularly condemned the suffering involved in broiler production.

For an end to the exploitation of people, animals and the environment.

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25/11/01 . By Colin Brown, James Morrison and Geoffrey Lean . Independent on Sunday . UK  
'Disgrace' of UK's factory chicken farms  
What are we eating? - Campaigners and supermarkets at odds over welfare standards  

All but one of Britain's main supermarket chains are ignoring Government guidelines for the breeding of chickens used in their products, according to an RSPCA survey.

The survey found that Asda, Safeway, Tesco, Waitrose, the Co-op and fast food chain McDonald's insist that their so-called "broiler" chicken products comply with the Assured Chicken Producers standard for the industry. But this still allows the birds to be intensively farmed in sheds at a density of up to 19 per sq.m. (11 sq.ft.).

Meanwhile, Elliot Morley, the animal health minister, is to push for an EU directive to impose tougher standards on chicken "factory farms" and will raise the issue next month with his EU counterparts. He told the IoS: "We are determined to get a new directive to improve conditions for chickens throughout Europe."

The UK survey found that, of the companies questioned, only Marks & Spencer met the Government's guidelines, which recommend a maximum density of 17 chickens per sq.m. Iceland said it required the ACP standard and carried out audits. Sainsbury's required ACP standards and refused to accept poultry given repeated therapeutic veterinary medicines without investigation. Kentucky Fried Chicken refused to fill in the questionnaire.

Despite generally failing to comply with Government recommendations, many of the companies questioned do offer some poultry raised to higher standards, whether organically, as free range or using the RSPCA's own "freedom" system.

The RSPCA is demanding that the breeding limit be reduced to around 15 birds per sq.m. One of the authors of the report, Caroline Le Sueur, said: "We want to see pressure put on the supermarkets to change the practices on farms."

UK ministers are to press the EU to speed up the introduction of what will be the first regulations to clamp down on conditions across the Continent. They argue that broiler chickens are the one major area of intensive livestock production not so far covered by the programme of EU animal welfare standards.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is also going ahead with a study into how broilers go lame when they are only a few weeks old because their bodies grow too big for their legs, and they have no room to exercise.

The European Commission has confirmed that it will table a directive, acting on last year's report which recommended the "stocking density" in broiler sheds should be reduced to a maximum of 30kg, or 65lb, per sq.m. 8kg less than is the norm in Britain. But pressure group Compassion in World Farming wants the UK to go further. Director Peter Stevensonsaid: "It's a disgrace that we have this huge industry that, in welfare terms, is under-regulated. I would like to see the minister both push for swift action in Brussels and lead the way over here, if possible by introducing our own legislation first."

An estimated 99 per cent of the 800 million chickens slaughtered each year in Britain for their meat are "factory-farmed", in densities of 40,000 per shed and 18-19 per sq.m. In contrast, 30 per cent of those bred in France are free range.

British broilers are selectively bred to a weight of 2-2.5kg in just 41 days, by effectively being force-fed on high-energy cereal grains. Back in the early 1960s, when the post-war intensive farming boom was still in its infancy, it took 84 days for such chickens to reach the same weight.  

23/11/01 . By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor . Independent . UK  
RSPCA's chickens advert is banned as 'political'  

It may be the most pressing animal welfare issue in Britain but you won't be hearing about it on television just yet. An RSPCA advertisement claiming that millions of British broiler chickens undergo suffering on a massive scale while being bred for their meat has been banned.

The advert, highlighting the pain and discomfort that the RSPCA alleges 820 million broilers suffer in their six-week lives every year, was deemed as unsuitable for showing by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (Bacc), the body that advises the television companies on the acceptability of their advertising.

The advertisement, now to be shown only in cinemas, was set to accompany the launch yesterday of a campaign on broilers by the society. The RSPCA says that despite advances in animal welfare, millions of these chickens still routinely endure a catalogue of illness before they are slaughtered. The illnesses range from sudden heart failure to leg pain, and from ammonia burns to skin infections.

The Bacc found the advertisement, which compared the speeded-up life of a broiler chicken, specially bred to put on weight quickly, with that of a "normal" egg-laying hen, was in breach of rule 10 of the Independent Television Commission's advertising code. This lays down that "no advertisement may be directed towards any political end", and continues: "The term 'political' ... precludes, for example, issue campaigning for the purposes of influencing legislation or executive action by central or local government."

Bacc's controller, Tony Kingsbury, said in a letter to the RSPCA's director of communication, John Rolls: "It is our opinion that the commercial is designed to influence public opinion in an area of controversy namely the way in which chickens are bred for fast-food outlets."

Mr Rolls condemned the decision as "absolutely ridiculous". He said: "We thought it was quite extraordinary that we could not put this on television. We should be able to raise issues about how animals are kept, otherwise the diet of adverts on TV would only be promoting products. There should be an open debate about animal welfare or any other issue. It is far too narrow at the moment."

Chicken is now by far Britain's most popular meat. As a result, the society says, broiler suffering is one of the most pressing animal welfare issues in the UK. It has listed the miseries that it says the birds undergo, and is urging people to transform the lives of chickens by insisting that supermarkets demand improved welfare standards from their suppliers.

Caroline Le Sueur, the RSPCA's senior scientific officer, said: "Consumers have traditionally been largely unaware of the suffering, but now they have a vital role to play in improving the lives of the birds. Shoppers can influence animal welfare standards by the food they choose and the pressure they put on retailers to demand an end to systematic cruelty."

Yesterday the National Farmers' Union disputed the RSPCA's claims. An NFU spokeswoman said: "UK poultry breeders have worked tirelessly and successfully over the past decade to dramatically reduce the incidence of heart attacks and lameness in broiler chickens, so we are disappointed that the RSPCA has now chosen to write this report based on historical data regarding bird welfare.

"UK poultry farmers operate to some of the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. Most broiler chickens are reared in housing where they are free to feed, drink and wander in a temperature controlled climate.

"These types of houses are electrically lit and floors are usually covered with straw or shavings.

"The European Commission has already expressed an interest in introducing a minimum standard of animal welfare within the broiler sector across Europe, which the NFU would support."  

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