Chickens reared at farms supplying major supermarkets spend their last days deformed and in pain, according to an undercover investigation.
Animal welfare charity Open Cages obtained video which appears to show chickens in severe pain and in a poor condition.
The footage from July and August, from Beauchamp Farm near Gloucester and Lower Cleeve Farm in Herefordshire, shows hens collapsing under their own weight because they are so large.
Some couldn’t feed properly, and others had sores and were covered in faeces. Dead birds were left lying among the flocks.
The farms supply chickens to Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Lidl, according to The Mirror.
Conor Jackson, chief executive of Open Cages, said: ‘The animals… are clearly in severe pain.’
Andrew Knight, professor of animal welfare at the University of Winchester, said the footage showed ‘chickens with severe lameness… experiencing very substantial pain and stress’.
Tesco said it had begun an investigation after being made aware of the video and added: ‘We require all our suppliers to uphold high animal welfare standards.’
The company claims all assurance scheme and legislative requirements were being met.
Sainsbury’s said: ‘The welfare of our animals is extremely important and we are investigating this footage from Lower Cleeve Farm.’
Lidl said: ‘Our fresh chicken is Red Tractor assured and adheres to stringent animal welfare and food hygiene standards.’
Avara Foods, which processes chicken from Beauchamp Farm, said the footage showed the ‘overwhelming majority of the birds are clean, healthy and have easy access to food and water’.
Hays Farms, which owns Lower Cleeve Farm in Herefordshire, was unavailable for comment.
Birds are now forced to grow at an unnatural rate to satisfy Britain’s billion-a-year appetite for chicken, and are often dubbed ‘Franken-chickens’ by welfare campaigners.
Most UK factory farm chickens are from breeds developed to gain 95 grams a day. They are slaughtered at 35 days old, but in 1950 it was 16 weeks.
Experts say the rapid weight gain often causes heart attacks and leg disorders.
Tesco now buys some of its chicken from units that give slower-growing birds more space – but this is only a small part of its sales.
Fifty scientists have written to Dave Lewis, Tesco’s chief executive, urging him to sign the ‘better chicken commitment’.
Waitrose, M&S, Greggs, KFC, Nando’s and Pizza Express have already signed the commitment, which requires them to switch to slower-growing breeds and give birds more space by 2026.
All the biggest retailers in France have now signed it.
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