THE European Union must take the lead to give chickens a more comfortable time during their short lives, says an Ellesmere Port Euro-MP.
Liberal Democrat Chris Davies says the huge increase in consumption of cheap meat should not be at the cost of immense animal suffering.
Chicken is the cheapest and most popular meat sold in the UK and accounts for 40% all meat purchases.
Around 855m birds, known as broilers, are reared for their meat every year and birds sell for as little as £2.50 in British supermarkets.
Around 95% of birds are reared in intensive factory conditions and the RSPCA claims around 100,000 birds die prematurely every day.
Broilers are genetically selected to grow quickly and the time from when they hatch until they appear on a supermarket shelf can be less than six weeks.
The birds grow so rapidly they can suffer from severe health problems such as chronic lameness and heart defects.
Most chickens bred for their meat spend their lives in heavily stocked sheds that have very low light to discourage activity and maximise growth. This disrupts normal sleep patterns causing stress, eye abnormalities and leg disorders.
Moves to highlight the reality of cheap chicken and calls for supermarkets to improve conditions are being led by TV chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver.
Chris Davies says the EU must take the lead in ensuring better conditions for birds.
He said: “Standards need to be brought up across the EU to prevent trading cheaply at the cost of animal welfare.
“But it is a difficult issue and we have to protect the businesses of British chicken farmers. Animal welfare is not included in the World Trade Organisation agreements and if we impose too much of a burden on farmers the price of their chicken will be uncompetitive and our shops will be full of cheap imports from countries where animal welfare standards are much worse.”
Last year EU Agriculture Ministers agreed a new law to deliver improvements in the conditions of the sheds in which chickens are housed and limit cruel practices like beak trimming.
The law will require little by way of improvements for UK birds but requires a number of reports to be made by the European Commission on labelling of birds and the fast growth rates of broiler hens.
Mr Davies has welcomed the commission’s refusal to delay the law as a victory against intensive farming.
He said: “Battery cages have long been seen as one of the most inhumane aspects of factory farming and it is time we moved towards reducing suffering.”
He is supporting the RSPCA’s call for clearer labelling of chicken products.
The RSPCA recommends people only buy chicken with the Freedom Food label, or free-range birds.