Battery chicken row ruffles feathers

15 February 2008

Jennifer Shaw

Deputy News Editor

Battery farmed chicken in Cambridge could become a thing of the past as councillors are calling on all colleges to only buy free range produce.

Leading Labour councillor Lewis Herbert has proposed a ban on council purchase of intensively farmed chickens and eggs, and is calling on University establishments to follow suit.

“The only reason battery-reared chicken and eggs are so cheap is because we are being cruel to chickens,” the councillor said.

“As a civilised society, our only real option is to end such appalling treatment of animals”, he added.

The proposal is inspired by TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s national campaign, which started with his attempts to completely stop the population of one town from buying battery products.

The measures will be considered on February 21st and Herbert hopes the measures will be implemented by December of this year, well ahead of EU targets.

But concerns have been raised as to whether the proposal is feasible for the 20000 students living in Cambridge. One catering manager at a college with an ethical food policy told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “At Robinson we have used free-range eggs from time to time but have found that the price differential does make them a less popular choice amongst our students.

“The issue is whether the volume requirements can be sustainably delivered, cost effectively. I would expect that there would be some significant challenges, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility for the future.”

95% of the chicken eaten in the UK is currently intensively farmed but the success of Fernley-Whittingstall’s campaign has been widely felt. Sainsbury have noted a 42% increase in sales of their Taste the Difference Free Range Chicken.

But for those concerned about short supply in their local supermarket, Sainsbury confirmed it is working hard to meet increased demand:

“We are working with our suppliers to put plans in place to rear more British higher welfare birds but this will take significant time to achieve.”

“We are currently working in the short term to obtain more French free range birds and these will be ranged out as and when they can be secured” the spokesman added.

But Cllr Herbert dismissed objections that the changes would require a significant increase in living costs. He estimated that students would only have to spend one extra pound per week to meet the targets.

“Isn’t it a cop out if get concerned about other animal cruelty like hunting if we do not act when we have the choice?” the councillor asked.