THE High Court has dismissed a legal challenge to using conventional broiler breeds on welfare grounds.

Charity The Humane League brought the action against Defra, primarily arguing that the breeds of broilers predominantly used in the UK are genetically bred to grow at a rate detrimental to their health.

See also: Broiler placings continue to drop

But it was rejected by judge Sir Ross Cranston, who ruled that Defra’s policies and practices are not unlawful.

About 90% of broilers reared in the UK are conventional breeds, with the balance made up by slower-growing birds serving organic, free-range, speciality and Better Chicken Commitment lines.

The Humane League was refused permission for the hearing twice before the Court of Appeal granted it. It took place at the beginning of May.


The case, in which the RSPCA also gave evidence, challenged both the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007 and Defra’s ‘trigger system’ which is designed to detect welfare issues.

Sean Gifford, Managing Director of The Humane League UK, said: “We will continue our fight to get justice for chickens, and are considering all of our options, including lodging an appeal against this verdict. This country and its animals deserve far better.”

The RSPCA added it was disappointed with the verdict. Marc Cooper, Head of Farm Animals at the chairty, said: “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.”

Valuable asset

Following the verdict, the British Poultry Council’s chief executive, Richard Griffiths, said: “We are delighted to hear the ruling that Defra and the Secretary of State have not found to be acting unlawfully.

“Our birds are our most valuable asset and, as the bedrock of our national food security, their health and welfare is prioritised as such.

“We are, however, always open to listening to the thoughts and opinions of others when it comes to how we produce the food we eat. Transparent discussion is at the heart of continual progress in bird health and welfare.”