DEFRA (www.defra.gov.uk/) have announced new proposed regulations to increase the maximum permitted stocking density for chickens from 34 kilograms per square metre to 42 kilograms per square metre – the equivalent of 19 birds per square metre.

Despite increasing sales of higher welfare chickens (42% rise from 2007-2008) in response to campaigns by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (www.rivercottage.net/) and Jamie Oliver (www.jamieoliver.com), DEFRA have effectively given the green light to intensive poultry production.

The Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare’s (SCAHAW’s) recommended stocking density of 25 kilograms per square metre (around 12 birds) is based on health and safety statistics to avoid major welfare problems.  The knock on effect of the new regulations could have serious health consequences.

Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Advisor at Compassion in World Farming, comments: ‘This is a huge step backward. This proposal is dangerous in that it makes consumers think that the law protects chickens but in fact it will simply give a veneer of legislative respectability to factory farming.

‘We were immensely disappointed with the EU Directive when it was first agreed in 2007, now the UK is planning to lower its standards to come into line with the Directive, giving a green light to the continuation of intensive poultry production. Cramming 19 chickens into a square metre is unacceptable.

‘Many major retailers are waking up to pressure from consumers and campaigns by celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver and committing to improving chicken welfare, so why is the government so out of touch with public perception?’

To vote for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken Out ‘honest label’ visit www.chickenout.tv by February 1.