Farming: UK considers stronger chicken welfare laws after heatwaves

The Humane League UK: A look at 2019 campaign

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The announcement comes after a call for urgent action was made by animal charities The Humane League UK, Open Cages and Animal Equality UK. In a letter of response, the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has reiterated that it is “deeply concerned” about the fatalities, and has reportedly hinted at impending “major changes in chicken welfare law”, The Human League UK said. Defra is understood to be “carefully considering what it can do” to prevent further needless deaths, with “all the solutions proposed […] already part of that consideration” — and is meeting with key stakeholders in the chicken industry to hear what is already being done.

The Human League UK has explained that fast-growing broiler chickens experience more body heat production, making the birds more susceptible to heat stress and upping their already elevated blood pressure levels.

Heightened blood pressure — especially around the lungs — and high body temperatures can lead to chickens suffering from confusion, diarrhoea, dizziness, heart failure, hyperventilation and death.

The charities have recommended current legislation be better enforced, that chickens be given more space during the summer, that producers who allow heatwave deaths on their farms be prosecuted, and that the adoption of the “Better Chicken Commitment” be made a legal requirement.

The Better Chicken Commitment is a welfare policy which aims to drastically reduce the suffering of broiler chickens by giving them more enrichment, natural light and space.

It also mandates the introduction of less painful methods of slaughter, third-party auditing, and the prohibition of “Frankenchicken” breeds that grow so fast they sometimes can’t even support their own body weight.

To date, more than 330 companies in the food service, manufacturing and restaurant industries have signed up to honour the commitment, including recognisable names such as Greggs, KFC, Kraft-Heinz, Nandos and Nestlé — the largest food and drink company in the world.

The charities also explained that the better ventilation afforded to chickens under the commitment — along with the use of harder, slower-growing breeds — would allow the birds to cope better overall during episodes of extreme heat.

The Humane League UK said: “Despite this, UK supermarkets including Morrisons, Tesco, Lidl, and Aldi are stubbornly dragging their heels and refusing to sign up. Both Aldi and Lidl have a commitment in other countries but not the UK.” has reached out to Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco for comment.

The Humane League UK’s head of programs Cordelia Britton said: “As we go into the future, higher temperatures are inevitable.

“These tragedies will happen again if we don’t do something now. We are very pleased to hear that the Government is taking action.

“Should the Government choose to make the Better Chicken Commitment the legal minimum, it would revolutionise the industry.”

The move, she added, would “eradicate some of the very worst, unthinkable forms of suffering chickens are routinely subjected to.”

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Open Cages CEO and co-founder Connor Jackson has described chickens as being “cooked alive”.

Mr Jackson said: “Despite the assurances of our leading supermarkets, most of the chicken we consume in Britain comes from ultra fast-growing Frankenchickens raised in appallingly crowded conditions.

“So I’m very pleased to learn that such meaningful improvements are being considered for these animals.

“Hundreds of forward thinking companies have already agreed to turn their back on these practices.

“So the door is open for the UK Government to ensure we take our place as world leaders in animal welfare.”

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