We Brits are told that the animals we eat are well cared for. But every day, millions of farmed animals are harmed, abused and exploited behind the high walls of factory farms. And this harsh reality is totally hidden away from the public.
Animals have no voice in society. Thus it’s only through advocacy from motivated, ordinary people that we can change their fate. And it’s important to remember that we can change their fate.
That’s what I aim to show you in this article with 8 of the biggest highlights of the year.
Frankenchicken: the price of cheap meat
Chicken is the UK’s most popular meat. But there’s a hidden price: over 1 billion chickens are raised and killed for meat in Britain every year. Their numbers dwarf all other farmed animals by a wide margin.
Behind the welfare assured labels, these birds are living a nightmare. They’re bred to grow 400% faster than natural. With a slaughter age of just 6 weeks, these animals often collapse in agony in their final days as they struggle to keep up with the rapid growth.
But it does not need to be this way. We’re asking companies to sign up to the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC.) This is a pledge to stop selling Frankenchickens by 2026. It’s an ambitious ask. But thanks to tireless work, change is already underway.
Below, I want to share with you 8 of the biggest successes and breakthroughs of the year
1. Marks and Spencer stops selling Frankenchickens
M&S were the first supermarket to sign the BCC back in 2016 pledging to phase out fast growing Frankenchicken by 2026. In August 2022, they met their commitment 4 years early and made history by becoming the first UK retailer to do so.
Frankenchicken has now been replaced with higher welfare, slower grown chickens as their basic range which is great progress. The number of chickens spared from extreme suffering due to deformities and poor welfare is huge. And it sets a precedent for other companies to follow.
Studies such as this carried out by researchers from FAI Farms, the University of Bristol and The Norwegian University of Life Sciences have concluded that slower growing breeds are healthier and have more fun than conventional faster growing breeds.
2. Sainsbury’s pledges to end overcrowded conditions for chickens by 2023
Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest retailer, has agreed to adopt the space requirements of the BCC for all own brand chicken by the end of 2023.
On a typical chicken farm, tens of thousands of birds are crammed inside the sheds for their entire lives. In their final week, they get less space than an A4 sheet of paper each. They can barely spread their wings. By ending this practice, Sainsbury’s has taken a good step in the right direction.
By continuing to sell fast growing breeds, the birds still endure extreme the suffering from lameness, organ failure and muscle disease. More space will improve their lives but it won’t fully address these problems.
We will be continuing to push for them to adopt the Better Chicken Commitment in full by switching to slower growing breeds.
3. 50+ media stories expose the truth behind Frankechickens to the public
The cruelty of Frankenchicken was reported on by The Guardian, Sky News, Daily Mirror, The Independent, Daily Express, Yahoo News, MSN, The Times and dozens more smaller regional news companies. Chris Packham also appeared, for the second time, on Sky News in December to raise awareness of Frankenchicken and the detrimental effects behind using these fast growing birds, not only to the welfare of the bird but also to the environment.
Still, so many people have no idea about Frankenchickens and the immense suffering they endure in their short lives. We feel people have the right to make educated choices on what they spend their money on and not contribute to the cruelty unknowingly in the supermarkets.
4. Open Cages revealed that 1.2 million chickens die every week before reaching the slaughterhouse due to the “horrific” welfare issues
In an exclusive with The Guardian, we released figures showing that 64 million chickens died before slaughter in 2021.
Why is this a breakthrough? Powerful decision makers in the supermarket and farming industries still refuse to accept that British chickens are living horrendous lives. This report has provided some of the most wide reaching evidence ever gathered confirming the problem. It can no longer be denied.
This horrendous suffering and waste of millions of animal’s lives has been largely brought about by the supermarkets’ pressure on farmers to produce cheaper chicken, with little regard for the price the animals are paying. That’s why we continue to push for UK supermarkets to commit to ending these cruel practices.
5. UK Government backs the Better Chicken Commitment
Defra (Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs) in its “Animal Health & Welfare Pathway ” announced that its “priority” for chickens raised for meat is to “implement” the Better Chicken Commitment. Through subsidies, Defra will encourage farmers to phase out Frankenchickens.
This is a massive breakthrough to help the phasing out of Frankenchickens. The Pathway is designed to support farmers to improve the health and welfare of their chickens through grants and payments based on the actions they take.
6. Defra “considering” Frankenchicken ban
After it emerged that 4 million chickens tragically suffocated during this summer’s heat wave, animal protection charities (including Open Cages) wrote to Defra proposing a ban on fast growing breeds and overcrowded conditions. Defra responded with claims it was considering the ambitious proposals which would be a world first if made law.
The birds’ excrement, of which there was more than usual due to diarrhoea – a warning sign of heat distress – made the sheds even hotter. The fast growing breeds are already weak and unhealthy, and the crowded conditions reduce oxygen levels so the birds suffocate more easily. Slower growing breeds with more room would be better able to cope.
The temperatures reached as high as 45C inside the already overcrowded industrial farm sheds. The Independent reported on this also claiming that workers suffer flashbacks from the “sheer scale and stink of the dead bodies” that died during the heatwave. The sad irony is that animal agriculture, as a leading cause of climate change, is a driving force behind these heat waves which are going to continue. This shows how important it is for change to happen soon.
7. The number of companies committed to stop selling Frankenchickens reached 550+ globally
This means nearly a 1/3rd of the UK is signed up to the BCC. With them now signed on, seven of the UK’s ten largest restaurant chains will be BCC-compliant by 2026, including Greggs, Pret a Manger, KFC and Pizza Hut, Nando’s, Burger King and Subway. In June 2022 Starbucks UK became the latest major brand to sign up.
As we go into 2023 we will continue pushing for more and more retailers to sign up until, eventually it is a minimum requirement for all food companies to prohibit the sale of Frankenchickens.
8. Across the UK, volunteers organised over 50 protests outside supermarkets
In an effort to inform Morrisons’ customers, hundreds of campaigners from Glasgow to Penzance joined the campaign calling for supermarkets to sign up to the BCC. Most of these were against Morrisons as part of the #MorrisonsMisery campaign.
On 30th April, over 19 groups of activists protested outside 19 Morrisons stores up and down the country. Dressed as butchers and holding placards showing actual chickens from Morrisons supplier farms suffering lameness and ammonia burns, they showed the customers the truth behind the clever slogans and advertising.
In August we took to the M4 motorway for a Stop Frankenchicken Road Trip. We covered 111 miles across the M4 corridor over a 12 hr period and visited 5 Morrisons stores from Bristol to Brentford. The response from Morrisons customers was encouraging. One customer even took her chicken back in store for a refund after hearing the truth about Frankenchickens. Other customers chose to not shop in the store at all.
All in all, we received wide news coverage for our protests throughout the year in national and regional media. Hundreds of thousands of people were informed about where chicken really comes from, and how Morrisons continues to deceive them.
As we come to the end of 2022 and the start of a new year we will continue to fight for better lives for all chickens. Over 1 billion chickens are bred in the UK each year to a life of suffering so this cruelty needs to be stopped. To think that 1.2 million die each week before slaughter is a catastrophe in itself. We will not stop until we stop the sale of Frankenchickens completely.
Your voice matters. Add your name to the petition and you can help change the lives of millions of animals. Sign our petition to stop Frankenchicken.
Wendy Roper, Open Cages