January 12th, 2008

It's Not Really About Chickens At All.

More about chickens. And first off I feel I owe Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall an apology. The man is trying to do a good thing. I was unduly contemptuous and harsh.

I liked Jamie Oliver's show last night. He went over much of the same ground- but in the form of an illustrated lecture. He killed chickens on stage, he gassed chicks, he made fritters out of the horrible slurry known as MRM (mechanically recovered meat). He also went where H F-W hadn't been and looked at egg production. He didn't bully us, he showed us the process. And he gave some credit and sympathy to the farmers. They don't necessarily want to farm on this inhuman scale but they're not given much choice; the market demands it of them. A standard chicken sells for £2.50 - £3.00. And how much of that goes to the producer? 3p.

Unlike H F-P, Oliver was groping for a compromise solution. The RSPCA has drawn up guidelines and will award a badge to producers who honour them. The birds are still kept indoors but in less crowded conditions, with windows and fans and amenities like straw bales and perches and toys. It's not the rural idyll we'd all like to see but it's a big improvement - and it only adds £1.00 to the price of each bird. That's acceptable, isn't it?

Or is it? I don't really know. There are almost certainly people out there who can afford a chicken at £2.50 but not at £3.50.  And do we really think it's ethical to press for animal welfare at the expense of human beings? Chickens are cheap because people are poor. That's what it's really all about.  Ten years ago we elected a Labour government in the belief that they cared about this sort of thing- and what have they done? They've allowed the gap between rich and poor to widen. Fussing about animal cruelty is approaching the problem from the wrong end. Stamp out human poverty and the excuse for factory farming disappears.