The High Court has rejected a legal challenge over the use of fast-growing broiler chickens, after animal welfare campaigners raised concerns over 'devastating' health issues.
The news follows a judicial review at the High Court earlier this month which saw the Humane League UK bringing the case against Defra.
The charity, along with the RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations, provided evidence to the court over the two-day hearing.
The Humane League UK, represented by Advocates for Animals, argued against a law permitting farmers to keep so-called “Frankenchickens”, which reach their slaughter weight of 2.2kg in 34 to 36 days.
However, in a written judgment handed down on Wednesday (24 May) dismissing the challenge, Judge Sir Ross Cranston ruled that Defra's policies, which allow the rearing of such chickens, are not unlawful.
Concerns about meat chicken breeds have been frequently highlighted by animal welfare groups, as they say such breeds have been genetically selected to grow so fast that they suffer from health issues.
According to research by animal welfare organisations, faster-growing breeds are more likely to die or need to be culled due to ill health.
Rapid growth rates can contribute to other health problems such as heart failure and sudden death syndrome, whilst other research has shown that around 30% are likely to experience pain from leg and foot issues.
Dr Marc Cooper, head of farm animals at the RSPCA, said the charity was "extremely disappointed" by yesterday's High Court news.
He said: "The outcome of this judicial review represents a significant failure to address the most pressing animal welfare issue of our time, despite overwhelming evidence of suffering.
"The scale of the issue is unprecedented and set to get worse as numbers farmed are predicted to continue to rise to meet growing demand.
“This judgement is a missed opportunity to make the single most important change for animals in 200 years."
In September 2022, Marks and Spencer became the first retailer to commit to backing the pledge by selling only 100% slow-reared fresh chicken.
Andrew Clappen, M&S food technical director said at the time: “When it comes to chicken, we want to keep raising the bar to improve welfare - it’s something we know our customers care deeply about and we do too.
“Improving animal welfare is an important part of our trusted value commitment – we are introducing slower-reared, higher-welfare chicken offering better quality and better flavour for our customers.”