The UK animal rights group Open Cages has released footage showing the conditions chickens suffer in three intensive farms in Lincolnshire, England, which they allege supply their flesh to Co-op supermarkets. The campaign group said that the chickens were deformed and many were dying “collapsed in agony” at three farms. 

Investigators of the group took videos and photos at three Lincolnshire farms between August and November 2022, and they claim that one of the sites, Sheffield Farm, is identical to a farm featured in a video produced and promoted by Co-op on its website showing healthy-looking chickens raised in “clean and spacious” conditions. The farms involved state there is no evidence that the footage was obtained in their facilities.

Open Cages said the footage shows birds looking deformed, injured and filthy, some near death, unable to eat or drink, while others had visibly untreated wounds. Footage also shows hundreds of dead chickens being tossed into maggot-filled bins by “laughing” workers.

Co-op is unique among UK supermarkets because allows members to vote on business practices. There is a debate within the company over the sale of selectively bred fast-growing chickens, which are the norm in the broiler chicken industry. Around 97% of the chicken sold in Co-op stores allegedly comes from fast-growing breeds, genetically selected over decades to prioritise fast growth—at the cost of the animal’s welfare. At the company’s annual meeting in May, 96% of Co-op’s members called for an end to the practice over animal welfare concerns, though this vote was dismissed by the company’s board. Managing director Matt Hood told the AGM that he would not currently advocate adopting a slower-growing breed due to the cost being around 30-35% more expensive.

As a result of their rapid growth, the chickens at factory farms suffer from a wide range of health and welfare issues, such as heart attacks, lameness, organ failure, bone deformities, muscle diseases, and burns.

Connor Jackson, CEO of Open Cages, said: “Co-op’s loyal members and customers are being fed a deceptive and misleading fairy tale. These images prove that behind the carefully polished, ”ethical” image we all know, sick frankenchickens are being condemned to lives of unnecessary pain, misery and stress on intensive mega-farms. These birds simply grow too fast to lead any sort of decent life.”

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.