Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cooped up

"According to the RSPCA, most of the 855 million meat chickens reared in the UK every year suffer 'unacceptable' conditions in the 40 days it takes to fatten them to be slaughtered and sold for £2.50. 'Cheaper than dogfood,' as Jamie cries. But life is changing for the British chicken. Soon it may be scratching in a meadow or at least in spacious barns supplied with the coloured footballs and hanging toys recommended by the RSPCA to combat boredom.

I don't think I have ever previously mentioned the great chicken crisis. It would be sadistic not to welcome the advent of the 'high-welfare' bird that may now supplant the broilers condemned to poultry hell. Even so, I can't help noticing the similarities between the low-welfare chicken and someone whose predicament I have written about often, the low-welfare prisoner.

As chicken fever took off last week, the announcement that prison suicides in England and Wales increased by 37 per cent in 2007 was rather eclipsed. There were, though, some similarities to the poultry scandal. Campaigners, notably the Howard League, blamed overcrowding for the rise in deaths. A Ministry of Justice spokesman was quoted as disputing this, arguing that cell-sharing is 'a known protective factor against suicide'. In other words, what is bad for caged chickens, who peck and torment one another when crammed into too small a space, is good for humans."

Great piece by Mary Riddell writing for The Observer.

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