On 3rd May 2023, the first hearing on whether farmers in England should be allowed to keep fast-growing broiler chickens took place at the UK High Court. The Humane League UK (THL), represented by Advocates for Animals, claims the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has unlawfully failed to properly monitor and prosecute farmers for keeping “Frankenchickens”, by failing to enforce the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007, which prohibit the keeping of animals that cannot be kept without any detrimental effect on their health or welfare.
The case was granted a full hearing at the Court of Appeal after being twice refused permission for a judicial review. Outside the court, a peaceful demonstration of supporters of this legal action took place. The environment secretary denies having any policy of permitting any particular breed of chicken and argues that there is no scientific consensus that fast-growing chickens have a genetic makeup that means they cannot be kept without welfare detriment.
By the process of selective breeding to create more flesh per animal and by changing feeding methods aiming to fast growth, the bodies and physiology of chickens have been gradually transformed into the broiler chickens we have today — who are “Frankensteinian” versions of the smaller and leaner original Indian chickens from which they were initially bred. This rapid growth puts immense strain on their bodies, leading to a myriad of health problems, including leg deformities, heart issues, and respiratory difficulties. Many broiler chickens suffer from chronic pain and discomfort due to their accelerated growth, which makes it difficult for them to move, walk, or engage in natural behaviours — such as perching and dust bathing. According to Bennett et al. (2018), modern broilers have at least doubled in body size from the late medieval period to the present, and have increased up to fivefold in body mass since the mid-twentieth century.