Hugh’s chicken leaves a sour taste

“If you were a chicken where would you prefer to live?”
That was the faintly ridiculous question posed by one of the participants in last night’s episode of Hugh’s Chicken Run (Channel 4, 9pm) which compared the cramped living conditions of intensively reared broiler fowl with the free range counterparts.
The second of this three part programme which seeks to change our buying habits when it comes to cut-price chicken was an emotional experience.
Groups of unsuspecting men, women and children were given a tour of the different sheds set up as an experiment by television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Some left in tears but the no-nonsense down-to-earth single mother Hailey was having none of it.
“That’s what they’re for” she declared and laid bare the horrible economic truth behind food production.
It’s a viewpoint that’s also been much in evidence in reaction to the programme. Much of the media reaction so far has pointed to the argument being naïve.
“Please stop this grim experiment” said The Guardian while The Times dismissed the whole thinking behind the argument saying “what we need is a more human-centred morality that puts people’s needs top of the pecking order. There is a case for improved production methods that make meat taste better – but that is about making us happier to eat it, not producing “happier” chickens.”
And the farming organisations, perhaps rather predictably, have criticised the accuracy of the programme.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and British Poultry Council (BPC) issued a joint statement in which they gets in a flutter about the terminology used and refers to the “myths and misconceptions” within the programme.
But while the sight of well-paid celebrities such as Jamie Oliver looking surprised at the plight of chickens (hasn’t he been involved in the food industry for more than 15 years? ) it’s a credit to the respect that the public have for Hugh’s dogged work on this issue that so many people continue to sign up for the campaign.
At the time of this blog posting, more than 38,000 members of the public had already signed up demanding a free range future and the figure is still rising (see below).
If the campaign momentum continues after tonight’s inevitable nasty end for the luckless fowl then it would be a foolhardy industry that doesn’t react with more than grumbles and moans about the bearer of bad tidings.


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