The RSPCA has announced it will seek to assist the High Court in a potentially landmark judicial review challenging Defra over the legality of fast-growing broiler chickens.
The court case challenges the UK government on the legality of allowing the use of genetically selected fast-growing breeds of broiler chickens.
The charity has been given permission from Mr Justice Bourne to act as an ‘intervener’ in the judicial review, which is being brought by the Humane League UK at the High Court in May.
The RSPCA said it would provide evidence on the welfare issues of fast-growing breeds, as well as the 'lack of clarity' of the UK's animal welfare laws.
Concerns about meat chicken breeds have been frequently highlighted by animal welfare organisations, 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 groups, 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.
Kate Parkes, RSPCA poultry expert, said the charity had 'serious concerns' about the welfare of fast-growing breeds of meat chickens.
"These fast-growing birds are less able to exhibit their natural behaviours such as foraging, dust bathing and perching and instead spend most of their lives sitting and eating, less able to move around.
“The RSPCA is pleased that we’ve been granted permission to act as an intervener in this ground-breaking case as our research clearly shows the welfare issues associated with these breeds is unacceptable.”
The use of fast-growing breeds of chicken is not permitted under the the RSPCA Assured scheme - the charity’s food and farming assurance scheme.
It also supports the Better Chicken Commitment, which encourages supermarkets and retailers to commit to raising welfare standards across their supply chain of chicken by 2026.
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.”