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Chicken out – vote for a free range future

It’s not often I write about television, but I would like to draw your attention to Channel Four’s current food season, . They’ve lined up their three main chefs, Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, to explore where our food comes from.

It’s a team I have a lot of respect for. Each of them have campaigned for better food in different ways, some of them very successfully. The whole season looks interesting, but I’d like to highlight Hugh’s Chicken Out initiative in particular.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has been a leading voice on ethical meat eating, and will be looking at chicken in a series of programmes called , in which he abandons the usual principles of the and takes up intensive chicken farming. In the UK we eat over 850 million chickens every year, and 95% of them are intensively farmed. That means cramped indoor conditions, and short and unhealthy lives. The programme aims to portray the practices behind cheap supermarket poultry, and persuade the British public to vote with their wallets and buy free range.

There’s a website to support the campaign, , and this is their video introduction to raising chickens for meat:

Names are being collected for a petition to the government and to supermarkets. You can sign it at

[update: for the latest on the campaign, take the free range challenge.]

14 comments

  1. I am so pleased that Hugh and Jamie are exposing the scandalous cruelty to chickens. I believe that intensive rearing of chickens should be urgently banned. I have never eaten chicken in my whole life and people never used to eat chicken except at Christmas when I was young. The chicken farmers should not be allowed to make money out of horrendous cruelty to chickens. I was glad that Hugh shed tears for the chickens since they deserve that but I saw on TV a chicken farmer whose comments showed he is heartless. A few miles from where I live there is a chicken farm at Portlethen in Aberdeen where last summer 15,000 chickens died in the heat in a shed because the chicken farmers hadn’t got the common sense to ensure the place was well ventilated and dead chickens were found on the road in Aberdeen which leads to Sainsburys and Asda which had apparently fallen off a lorry. The chickens are pumped full of antibiotics so they put on weight and this and eating meat is as Dr. Vernon Coleman, a doctor in Devon says in his book is causing cancer and I agree with Dr. Coleman that it is time that the Government also took on the farmers over the cruelty of intensively reared farm animals. Farmers he says are allowed to put antibiotics into feed and don’t need a Vet to prescribe the antibiotics and the antibiotics increase the weight of the animal but this has contributed hugely to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Cheap chickens are not the right of the people since we lived perfectly well without eating chicken and I have never in my whole life eaten chicken and never will. I would like a complete ban on the cruelty to chickens and people to stop eating chicken because it is tragic that they are born simply to die and to live a very cruel life between birth and death. I am glad you are a compassionate person Hugh who was not ashamed to weep for the chickens. I too weep for them.

  2. Visited Tesco extra CT10 2QJ. Very disappointed with the lack of free range chicken since the recent media coverage of chicken production. I was previously unaware that standard chicken was treated in this fashion and I have decided not to eat that class of chicken any longer.

    When I visited the tesco extra mentioned above at 16:30 on Friday afternoon I was shocked to discover the complete lack of variety and quantity of free range chicken available to the general consumer. The largest packet of either chicken legs or chicken thighs contained 4 pieces in each case. The price was reasonable but I expected to be able to save money by purchasing a greater quantity. In fact there was not even enough in stock for me to purchase more than one four packets of four legs/thighs. This would total the number that I could have purchased in one, maybe two of the packets of standard chicken. The variety was also poor and did not reflect the kinds of cut available in the standard chicken category. Furthermore, the shelf space dedicated to standard chicken was indeed discriminate to the point that I struggled to locate where the free range chicken was. The number of whole free-range chicken on the shelf was three and they were both very large at a cost of £8.53. I could have bought almost four smaller standard chickens for that price. This is offensive to me because it indicates that you are not willing to satisfy certain areas of the market, and from a consumer perspective the market has become distinctly bipolar. I am almost certain that what I describe herein has contributed significantly to this polarity. In truth and by blind comparison, your standard chicken smells of excrement, contains significantly greater quanitities of fat and lacks in both flavour and texture. In my oppinion Tesco stores are guilty of contributing to the current clinical problem of obesity in this country. I am going to tell as many people as possible about my experience at Tesco extra and I am going to visit a number of your stores and collect mroe evidence of what I have seen. Please change your ways.

  3. I sent this to Tesco.

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Recently I visited Tesco extra CT10 2QJ. I was very disappointed with the lack of free range chicken and especially since the recent media coverage of chicken production by channel four. I was previously unaware that standard chicken was treated in this fashion and I have decided not to eat that class of chicken any longer.

    When I visited the tesco extra mentioned above at 16:30 on Friday afternoon I was shocked to discover the lack of quantity and choice of free range chicken available to the general consumer. The largest packet of either chicken legs or chicken thighs contained 4 pieces in each case. The price was reasonable but I expected to be able to save money by purchasing a greater quantity. In fact there was not even enough in stock for me to purchase more than four packets of four legs/thighs. This would total the number that I could have purchased in one, maybe two of the packets of standard chicken.

    The number of whole free-range chicken on the shelf was three and they were both very large at a cost of £8.53. I could have bought almost four smaller standard chickens for that price. I had no option to buy a smaller free-range chicken. At 16:30 in the afternoon this isn’t the kind of shelf-stocking I expect to see at a major supermarket.

    The variety was also poor and did not reflect the kinds of meat-cut available in the standard chicken category. Furthermore, the shelf space dedicated to standard chicken was indeed discriminate to the point that I struggled to locate where the free range chicken was.

    All the things described above are offensive to me because it indicates that you are not willing to satisfy certain areas of the market, and from a consumer perspective the market has become distinctly bi-polar. I am almost certain that what I describe herein has contributed significantly to this polarity. In truth and by blind comparison, your standard chicken smells of excrement, contains significantly greater quanitities of fat and lacks in both flavour and texture. In my opinion Tesco stores are guilty of contributing to the current problem of clinical obesity in this country.

    I shall be telling as many people as possible about my experience at Tesco extra and I am going to visit a number of your other stores in order to collect more evidence to corroborate my beliefs. Please change your ways. Youtube will be an ideal platform for me to voice my opinion.

    Yours,

    William

    Master of Parasitology
    Ramsgate
    KENT

  4. Dear Sir/Madam,

    Recently I visited Tesco extra CT10 2QJ. I was very disappointed with the lack of free range chicken and especially since the recent media coverage of chicken production by channel four. I was previously unaware that standard chicken was treated in this fashion and I have decided not to eat that class of chicken any longer.

    When I visited the tesco extra mentioned above at 16:30 on Friday afternoon I was shocked to discover the lack of quantity and choice of free range chicken available to the general consumer. The largest packet of either chicken legs or chicken thighs contained 4 pieces in each case. The price was reasonable but I expected to be able to save money by purchasing a greater quantity. In fact there was not even enough in stock for me to purchase more than four packets of four legs/thighs. This would total the number that I could have purchased in one, maybe two of the packets of standard chicken.

    The number of whole free-range chicken on the shelf was three and they were both very large at a cost of £8.53. I could have bought almost four smaller standard chickens for that price. I had no option to buy a smaller free-range chicken. At 16:30 in the afternoon this isn’t the kind of shelf-stocking I expect to see at a major supermarket.

    The variety was also poor and did not reflect the kinds of meat-cut available in the standard chicken category. Furthermore, the shelf space dedicated to standard chicken was indeed discriminate to the point that I struggled to locate where the free range chicken was.

    All the things described above are offensive to me because it indicates that you are not willing to satisfy certain areas of the market, and from a consumer perspective the market has become distinctly bi-polar. I am almost certain that what I describe herein has contributed significantly to this polarity. In truth and by blind comparison, your standard chicken smells of excrement, contains significantly greater quanitities of fat and lacks in both flavour and texture. In my opinion Tesco stores are guilty of contributing to the current problem of clinical obesity in this country.

    I shall be telling as many people as possible about my experience at Tesco extra and I am going to visit a number of your other stores in order to collect more evidence to corroborate my beliefs. Please change your ways. Youtube will be an ideal platform for me to voice my opinion.

  5. I might point out that here in my local Carrefour supermarket in Belgium, a cheap chicken costs about 5€, a corn-fed chicken costs 9€ and a free-range chicken, 12€ so the price differential is greater. Cheap eggs cost 0,10€(30 for 3.15€), barn eggs 0,26€ and free range eggs 0,39€. Divide by 1.4 to convert to £.

    Time and again, the programmes referred to the price and “what the consumer wants”. Actually, it is what the supermarkets want in their price war. Chickens used to be a luxury and not a cheap food option. Supermarkets forced the farmers to produce cheaper chickens and eggs and to find ways to continually cut the price. We are used to paying a certain price for a food then a supermarket offers us an own brand option for less so we eat that instead. Tesco go further with their white brands – the 9p tin of baked beans, for example. We did not demand such cheap beans but it was offered to us by Tesco who want us to buy from them and not a competitor. Many cheap foods are sourced from third world countries produced by cheap labour. The product is canned nearer home so labelled produce of eg Italy and we are none the wiser.

    I did not eat chickens or any meat from 1984 to 2007 because of the way chickens are farmed in the UK, not because I am an animal lover which I am not but because of the forced feeding, the unnatural lives, the inevitable disease and knock-on effect on our health. I suffered one week with salmonella poisoning in 1980 caused by a chicken sandwich. I started eating chicken again just to be sociable but eat no other meat. Well the odd slice of Serrano ham. I am not evangelistic about vegetarianism. It is simply my quiet preference and a much cheaper food option.

    The point about chickens is not so much which type of whole chicken you choose to buy but about the poor quality of meat used in chicken products, especially the nuggets given to children because they are tasty. LISTEN PEOPLE – THEY ARE RUBBISH.

    I wonder whether KFC and McDonalds will now be forced by consumer pressure to consider their chicken sources.

    I know millions of people are on a low budget. (I once heard the frightening statistic that 38 million of the 60 million Brits in the UK had less than £112 to their name!) Yet many of these people still find money for alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets. Don’t get me started on the latter. Then there are new clothes every season, piles of them cheaply bought at Primark, a car and the must-have holidays. Very few people in the UK are so poor that they cannot make healthier food choices – like eating cheaper beans and pulses instead of meat. It is all a question of priorities.

    Will someone please investigate why smoked salmon is now so cheap? It used to be a luxury, Christmas day food but 200g of cheapo Atlantic product made(?) in France now costs 1,50 € in Carrefour, down from 2,99 €. Of course it is thin and the odd bit is too chewy to eat but it is edible enough for sandwiches. Even my 10 year old’s school sandwiches.

    Read about Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV campaigns:
    News on about chicken sales since the programmes.
    Response from the Supermarkets in
    with readers’ comments

    ©Antonia Stuart-James 2008 on

  6. From the farmers point of view remember that they are not being paid what would allow reasonable profit margins, meaning for many years the industry has declined and what any other industry would call ‘rationalisation’. Many bnritish euntraprenuers would say that any profit margin below 12% woul;d mean the company is best sold, farmers for the last 10 years have aspired to earn 1% profit margins.

    farming is a business, and people forget this, open your eyes and see; there is no way that 850 million chickens can be reared each year in Britain as free range chickens and the country is plauged with debt, no one wants to pay more they can when there is money to spend, so think what will happen when there is no money to spend.

    The economy is hitting a brick wall, the US, UK, French and chinese stock markets are falling in value, money is not there anymore.

    fair trade in Africa is being championed all across This Island chain, but the rest of europe look after there own first, many examples are prominant like the polish paying the farmers up to 30P per litre of milk whereas our own farmersd are lucky to get 21p per litre up to November last year and still were no way near; also remember our milk has tracability, our farmers have to check it at every stage, ensure it its clean and without any contamination. the wagon driver even collects a sample to test later in a lab and the milk company won’t pay that farmer until 3 months later for that said milk. Poland has no such tracability proticles, why is that countries substandard product worth more than our product with the most rigorous tasting processes in the european union.

    By the way farms are private property, just because they tend to be open expanses rather than caged factories like other industries or homes doesn’t meanm the farmer doesn’t have a right to privacy.

  7. Hi Stephen, you make a number of good points there. Farmers are often made out to be the enemy here, but I sympathise with their dilemma – they need to make a living, and that’s been getting harder and harder over recent years. The bigger problem lies with the supermarkets, who have encouraged us to think food is cheaper than it really is. Farmers and producers have actually been subsidising our food with their wage losses, in effect.

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