Court decision means billions of chickens will continue to have 'lives not worth living'
A vital opportunity to address the biggest animal welfare issue facing the country has been missed after the High Court rejected a legal challenge to the use of fast-growing chickens.
The news today follows a judicial review at the High Court earlier this month which saw The Humane League UK bringing the case against DEFRA. The RSPCA provided vital evidence to the court over the two-day hearing which showed that fast-growing breeds of meat chickens suffer from severe health and welfare issues and many had 'lives not worth living'.
Judge Sir Ross Cranston, has ruled that DEFRA's policies and practices which allow the rearing of chickens that are genetically selected to grow so quickly they often suffer from heart defects and lameness, are not unlawful. Around a billion chickens are slaughtered for meat in the UK every year - or 2,000 every minute - and 90% of these chickens are fast-growing breeds so this is 'a huge missed opportunity to address the biggest issue for animal welfare in this country'.
Dr Marc Cooper, Head of Farm Animals at the RSPCA, said: "We're extremely disappointed by this news. The sheer scale of suffering and numbers of animals involved means this is a huge missed opportunity to address the biggest issue for animal welfare in this country. The outcome of this judicial review represents a significant failure to address the most pressing animal welfare issue of our time, despite overwhelming evidence of suffering. The scale of the issue is unprecedented and set to get worse as numbers farmed are predicted to continue to rise to meet growing demand.
"It's a total breakdown of morality that allows us to treat animals in this way, and there are no winners: humanity, the environment and animals will sadly all pay the price.
"This judgement is a missed opportunity to make the single most important change for animals in 200 years. Governments must act now and take a leadership role on this issue.”
The RSPCA's report studied health and welfare outcomes for these fast-growing chickens, who have been bred to grow rapidly in order to produce the maximum amount of meat in the shortest period of time, and at the cheapest price possible. The report found that they become so big, so quickly that they can struggle to bear their own weight resulting in lameness (difficulty walking), suffer health issues such as leg lesions and spend most of their time sitting and eating rather than engaging in positive natural behaviour such as perching and dustbathing. Other research has demonstrated that these breeds also often suffer from heart defects and sudden death syndrome. The report concluded that fundamentally these chickens 'do not have a life worth living' - watch the video Eat. Sit. Suffer. Repeat: the life of a fast growing meat chicken to here the conclusion.
Emma Slawinski, Head of Policy and Advocacy at the RSPCA, said: "We're deeply disappointed by the news today that the challenge has been dismissed by the High Court. However, we are proud to be part of this historic case and will continue to push for change for chickens.
"We hope this will shine a light on the suffering involved in the majority of chicken available to the public and we will continue to raise awareness of the plight of chickens to consumers, retailers and the Government. We'll continue to campaign for a compassionate and sustainable farming system which protects animals, the planet and ourselves.”
The RSPCA understands that this will be disappointing news for the majority of the public who care passionately about animal welfare. However, this isn't the only way that we can all make a change for animals. The charity is calling on retailers to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment and meet the minimum broiler ask by 2026. This means providing chickens with more space, natural lighting, and importantly only allows slower-growing breeds of chickens.
Retailers and foodservice companies such as Marks & Spencer and KFC have already signed-up to the Commitment - but there are many retailers in the UK who are yet to make the pledge.
The RSPCA is also urging the public to 'Eat less, eat better' by reducing the amount of animal products they consume and when they do, to choose higher welfare products, such as products carrying the RSPCA Assured logo.