Is there further to go than organic, free range chicken?

Posted by heather on Fri 25 Jan 08 at 3:18pm

With the UK government saying it's going to introduce legislation to ban battery hens and TV chefs joining the free range lobby there still seem to be a couple of alarming areas in the great chicken debate that have stirred only passing interest.
It seems that factory-like chick producers are supplying all levels of egg and chicken producers - free range, organic and the supermarket broiler suppliers. The ad man's image might be of an organic, free range hen starting life as a fluffy chick nurtured by its mum but the reality probably is that it came from a hushed, stainless steel cathedral of giant incubators. From then on it seems to be down to the luck of the draw as to which rearing system chicks destined for meat end up in. It would be interesting to know more - for example, do some organic producers rear their own chicks and under what conditions.
The same factories produce chicks destined as egg layers. For these chicks being male means instant death, either by gassing or being tipped into a giant processor. They end up as pet food.
Amongst the old breeds of chicken there are 'dual purpose' birds. It used to be that female chickens became laying birds and the males were fattened to be eaten. Many years of selective breeding have created birds that reach table size in a few weeks and the same selection has created prolific laying birds where males have no commercial value. Are there farmers still rearing dual purpose birds and making a profit? Perhaps a new attempt at selective breeding could produce birds that satisfied both a requirement for quickly growing birds for meat and relatively prolific layers. There may be a marketplace prepared to pay the inevitable premium. Traceability has become a buzz word in meat supply but it doesn't give the complete story.
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