What Price Cheap Chicken?

Sentient beings, not widgets
Living an ethical and environmentally friendly life is not only important, it is essential if we are to sustain our existence on Earth in any meaningful way. For me, this goes beyond reducing the damage my lifestyle inflicts on the planet, it includes protecting the rights of all animals to a natural life. Here in the UK, there is a campaign to persuade the major supermarket chains to stop the practice of factory farming chickens. The supermarkets in the UK have a stranglehold on the conventional farming industry. Through their business activities, they have effectively eliminated all competition on the high street. Farmers have no other market now for their produce, the supermarkets have the power to put any farmer out of business in the UK. That is why the supermarkets control the farming industry in the UK. This campaign, led by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, two of the country’s favourite celebrity chefs, has been launched with a series of programmes on Channel 4.

The programmes will show the factory farming process in all its gory details. The factory farming industry, has, not unsurprisingly, refused to allow filming of their facilities and declined to take part. The major supermarkets have been equally evasive. In the end, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has had to create his own factory farm and free-range farm using the UK government legal guidelines, which give directives for ‘best-practice’ for the poultry industry. This means up to 17 chickens can be kept per square metre in the chicken shed, with lights on for 23 ½ hours every day. That means the chickens have little room to move around in, and only get 30 minutes of darkness each day. 855 million chickens are slaughtered each year in the UK alone, 800 million of which are factory-farmed. They are bred to grow quickly and because of the rapid growth, some are too weak to support themselves and spend most of the time on the floor, which gives them ammonia burns to their legs and lower body. Some chickens become lame and are left to die. I have seen video footage shot undercover at factory-farms, and it is truly revolting to see how badly we humans can treat animals. If you want to see a short video, go to Compassion In World Farming (CIWF) website. The short but horrific life and painful death of factory chickens will be exposed on national television. The aim is to show consumers how inhumane and barbaric the practice of factory farming animals is, and how much the animals suffer, all in the name of profit. They are hoping that once consumers are made aware of how much these animals suffer, they will stop buying these cheap factory produced chickens and start buying free-range chickens instead. With enough consumer pressure, the supermarkets will be forced to change their practices. That’s the theory behind the campaign. How effective it will be remains to be seen.

I have been following the series with interest. I am a vegan, and have been for a number of years. The benefits of being vegan to my health, to the welfare of farm animals and to the reduction in my carbon footprint are obvious to me. Meat-eaters will dispute this, but there is enough scientific evidence to show a vegan diet is healthier, and perhaps more importantly, the amount of water needed, and the levels of greenhouse gas produced by the rearing of farm animals and the growing of feedstocks is far greater than producing the equivalent crops. Unfortunately, the attitude of many people is that they cannot afford to pay the extra money for free-range chicken, even the ones that actually care about the animals welfare, and for others, to give up their meat would be unthinkable. For many people, the welfare of animals does not even enter their mind. I am sure some people at least will change their shopping habits, but I am pretty sure the majority will not. It is a similar case with climate change, a small minority of people world-wide will care enough to make positive changes to their lifestyles to reduce their carbon footprint, but the vast majority will carry on as usual. For the majority, any thing that involves change or inconvenience is an anathema. I wonder how they’ll cope when global warming has turned their lives upside down?

For those of you not in the UK, you can watch the programmes using the free 4 on Demand (4oD) service via the Channel 4 website.

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  • Posted on Jan. 11, 2008. Listed in:

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