Recently, I again accompanied our brave undercover teams to farms belonging to Faccenda. They are one of Britain’s largest chicken suppliers and even though I have investigated twice before, nothing can prepare you for it. I always hope things have changed but they never have.
Chickens raised for meat in Britain live a pitifully short six or seven week life. The night we covertly visited a site outside Chippenham the birds were only a couple of weeks old, adorable little bundles of yellow feathers and exuberant energy. Yet even at this very young age, the problems were clear to see.
Scattered across the vast shed, some chicks lay still in the sawdust, unmoving in the sweltering heat. These were the early casualties. One particular chick caught my eye. He was lying on his back taking shallow breaths, eyes glassy and half-shut. It was obvious he was close to death.
Because the chicks were so small, they had space but we knew it wouldn’t last for long. On our previous visits they were almost fully grown and almost everywhere we looked we saw birds with filthy, wet feathers, burnt from the ammonia soaked floor; some were lame, deformed or dying and huddled together perhaps seeking comfort.
In Wales, I went into a huge shed belonging to Hay Farms containing tens of thousands of birds so crammed together in a sea of white feathers that even the slightest movement caused a bizarre, involuntary Mexican wave.
Faccenda and Hay Farms are multi-million pound companies that do the dirty work for supermarkets, restaurants and food producers who sell these same chickens under their own brand names. And that’s the way they like it – anonymous. Hidden behind fences and hedges down quiet country lanes, you might not even notice them but for the fetid smell that blankets the whole area.
We interviewed an ex-Faccenda chicken catcher and what he told us was shocking. Viva! collaborated with The Guardian newspaper in a telling exposé of Britain’s dirty chicken business, revealing that 92 per cent of all chicken on sale is contaminated with faecal matter. No wonder that food poisoning from poultry infects almost a quarter of a million Britons every year, mostly with campylobacter.
Overall meat consumption in Britain continues to decline yet chicken sales grow, with 945 million birds slaughtered last year. 94 per cent of all farmed animals killed in this country are chickens and this breaks my heart. They are plucky, delightful little animals with similar cognitive abilities to higher primates yet are treated as commodities, devoid of hope, fear or pain. Spend five minutes in a chicken shed and you know that they are individuals with a lust for life, something I learned long ago when I had rescued hens. And this is why we are launching the ‘Life is Cheep?’ campaign – because we know it is anything but cheap.
Please help us take the message to people everywhere that chickens matter and they can break this chain of suffering by simply changing what they eat.
We recently held a Day of Action against Nando's - now one of the biggest chicken restaurants in the country. You can still order our eye-catching materials to encourage customers to choose the kinder options on the menu and tell them how rotten the poultry industry really is. You can also order our new ‘Life is Cheep?’ door-dropper leaflet.
We are planning a media blitz, more investigations, a new film and 100,000 new leaflets. This doesn’t come cheap, either. That’s why we are asking your support for us to help the most abused animal in Britain. Hand on heart, we can’t do it without you. Whatever you can spare will help us save lives and all will be gratefully received.
Yours for the animals
Founder and Director of Viva!
Today chickens in Britain are killed at just six weeks' old. They are so young they go to slaughter before their blue eyes change colour.