Following this week's Food Standards Agency (FSA) findings that two thirds of uncooked chicken on sale in supermarkets and butchers were infected with the food bug Campylobacter, public concern is understandable. However, newly published findings which suggest that farm animals are more prone to Campylobacter infection when stressed are especially interesting.
Research from Bristol University has shown that "there is reliable evidence that stress increases susceptibility to bacterial infection, including campylobacter". This could include keeping animals in a poor environment or feeding them a poor diet.
In addition, scientists say that free-range chickens offer a more beneficial fatty acid composition compared to indoor raised chickens. This is partially due to free-range chickens being slower-growing breeds, but also because they have room to exercise and spread their wings.
In separate London Metropolitan University research, scientists analysed chickens throughout 2004 and 2006, including standard and organic meat chickens, comparing them to the nutritional value of samples from birds raised in the 1970s. Overall chickens have grown around 3 times fattier in the past 30 years, researchers claim.
High levels of fat found in animals reared for meat have been linked to modern intensive factory farming methods. Research has found that free-range chickens are significantly less fatty than chickens reared in intensive factory farms.
- Free-ranging behaviour has been shown to significantly reduce fat in chickens
- A typical supermarket chicken today contains proportionally 2.7 times as much fat as in 1970
- Organic chickens can contain 25% less fat than intensively reared chickens (standard chicken). That's 17.1g of fat per 100g for organic chicken, compared with 22.8g for intensive.
Research from the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University said: "Chickens are no longer a protein-rich food but a fat-rich food…Traditionally, chicken meat and hens' eggs would have been valuable land sources of omega 3 DHA. Fully free range chickens would get the omega 3 from green foods - grass, leaves and small animals that eat plants.
…In addition, the denial of exercise and the 24-hour availability of energy-dense and omega 3-deficient food in the broiler system provides exactly the recipe for weight gain, which means fat gain."
British birds are currently reared to a stocking density that equates to about 19 birds per square metre of floor space, an appallingly high stocking density. Sales of higher welfare chickens have shown a dramatic increase since the Chicken Out! campaign by celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Compassion in World Farming, to get a fair deal for chickens.
By allowing chickens the freedom to roam, not only does this benefit the animal, but it may help fight Britain's obesity crisis and food safety issues.
If you've not already done so, visit the Chicken Out! Campaign website and help us bring an end to 'cheap' chicken factories in favour of higher welfare, higher quality alternatives such as free-range.