Hugh's chicken run


Date: first broadcast in the UK in January 2008 

Presenter / writer: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Type: TV documentary series (4 episodes, 49 minutes each) and campaign website

Production companies: Channel 4 / River Cottage / KEO Films

Availability: free online on 40D and YouTube.

Page Reference: Beattie, E., Browner, F., Hughes, R., Marsh, R., Parrilla, J., Raeburn, A. & Redfern, M. (2011) Hugh’s chicken run. ( last accessed <insert date here>)


Can a TV series change the way we eat? Channel 4 thinks it can. While the rest of us are still catching up with the post New Year reality of credit card bills and working off the festive excesses, the network is running a controversial series looking at some of the food we eat, our diet, health and the production systems that keep us fed at ridiculously low prices.It kicked off earlier this week with Hugh's Chicken Run, featuring Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's campaign to improve chicken welfare and persuade consumers to upgrade to birds produced to higher welfare standards (Source: Anon 2008a, p.10).

Somewhat surprisingly, the cream of Britain's TV chefs have spent the week torturing and murdering chickens. Having pioneered expensive food in their restaurants, they now want us to eat expensive food at home as well, and this week Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have between them spent four and a half hours on television haranguing us about the need to buy £7 free-range chickens for humanitarian reasons (Source: Pile 2008, p.18 link).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall explores the horrors of intensive chicken farming. The journey takes him far from the cosy lifestyle of River Cottage and into the harrowing conditions of running his own modern poultry production line. Hugh plans to kick start a chicken revolution in the UK. He wants to replace the cheap chickens sold by supermarkets at less than a price of a pint of beer for ethically reared free-range chicken...His plan is that for one week, more than 50% of chicken bought and consumed in Axminster is free range. That includes curry houses and burger bars, ready made sandwiches and pub lunches. At the moment, less than 5% of the chicken sold in the UK is free range so it's a major undertaking (Source: Anon nde np link).

Hugh's Chicken Run is a three-part series which started last night [7 January] and continues today and tomorrow at 9pm (Source: Simpson 2008, np). 

Last night, in the first of three episodes of Hugh's Chicken Run, he set out his various ideas about how he might wean people off low-cost poultry, arguing that ‘if consumers knew what it took to produce chicken so cheaply, they would refuse to eat it’. His challenge in the series is to educate the local people without making them feel like they are being patronised. The latter is something that shows like this always struggle with, because they are patronising by nature, and it is to Fearnley-Whittingstall's credit that he grasped from the start that showing people rather than telling them is the best approach. By happy coincidence, that is the most telegenic approach as well, and it inspired a gratifying number of different and interesting ways of going about the mission. The inspirations behind his techniques were not hard to discern. Early attempts to tackle shoppers in the car park at Tesco, and ask them how many actual-size plastic chickens they felt should be placed in an actual-size one-metre-square wooden pen, were reminiscent of Janet Street-Porter's interventions about free-range veal on Gordon Ramsay's The F Word. Likewise, in another prong of his attack, it was easy to spot the influence of Jamie Oliver's assault on Britain's school dinners. Fearnley-Whittingstall's involvement last night with the women who run the canteen in Axminster Power Tools, the town's second-biggest employer, was an obvious homage. His idea was to get the women to stop serving up microwaved frozen omelette, or bought-in cottage pie, and cook free-range food themselves instead. Rosie, the canteen's chief caterer, said she was frightened of roasting chicken, for fear that it wasn't ‘cooked properly’. But when the sudden appearance of expensive chickens, beautifully roasted, packed the usually languishing canteen with happy eaters, delivering bigger profits than usual, she professed herself a convert. Rosie had never tasted a free-range chicken herself, and was much surprised by its far superior flavour, which certainly indicates just how little the middle-class obsession with fresh organic ingredients has penetrated the mainstream. Another of Fearnley-Whittingstall's lines of attack involved persuading people on the local estate to start caring for chickens themselves, on some disused allotments. This approach nodded to that of Monty Don, the media gardener who tried to show in another series that working the land was spiritually enhancing enough to help rehabilitate drug addicts. The people attracted to the project were by no means drug-addicts. On the contrary, the group self-selected as highly motivated can-do types. Yet they, the women particularly, seemed unaware of the paradox involved in being very overweight and at the same time insisting that without cheap food they could not survive. It was on the allotments that the human-interest quotient of the show was at its highest. Here were people seizing with both hands the opportunity to do something they'd never had the chance to do before, and rising wonderfully to the occasion (Source: Orr 2008, p.22 link).

It was a mark of the self-consciously high standards of Hugh's Chicken Run ..., that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ... bothered to meet Hailey, even if he did not reveal to us her surname. The Old Etonian lives in the pastoral fat lands of Dorset, the single mother on the wrong side of Axminster, Devon, in the Millwey estate, where to spend £6 on a better-bred chicken counts as profligacy. ‘This is real life,’ admitted F-W as he drove to where he had never driven before to share with the locals his contention that Tesco's bargain chickens were bad news for the chickens and not necessarily great news for Millwey's tastebuds either. Initially, Millwey seemed unlikely to care. We saw one of its residents prepare his £2.50 chicken in the traditional way: hack it to bits, shovel it on to a plate, cover dish with dissolved Oxo cube. And this was one of Millwey's better meals. ... Hailey was not, however, going to have her buying habits patronised and fired both barrels at Hugh's double-barrels. ‘What,’ she demanded, ‘should we call you? Hugh or Mr Fearnley-Whateveritis?’ (Source: Billen 2008, p.19).

Hugh ... persuaded the inhabitants of the Millway council estate in Axminster to raise a flock of free-rangers on their allotment - very heart-warming when they ended up converts to the free-range cause. All except 'mother hen' Hayley, who had been Hugh's biggest challenge. 'A single mum with two kids' (her description), Hayley bristled with martyrdom, claiming that Tesco's two-for-a-fiver broilers were all she could afford. ... When Hugh spotted Hayley loading the trolley in Tesco on the final day of his week-long 'Chicken Out' campaign to turn Axminster into a free-range town, her self-righteous pleasure at his evident disappointment told us a great deal about the feisty, funny but also rather angry Hayley (Source: Flett 2008, p.2 link).

TV CHEF Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has set up his own horrific little factory farm in a bid to get Britons to stop buying mass-produced chickens. Tonight he's reduced to tears as he does the rounds of his squalid, stinking, overcrowded shed, snapping the necks of sick or undersized birds. Later Jamie Oliver drops by and learns that factory chickens spend so long sitting in their own faeces that the ammonia in their poo burns through the skin on their legs. Disgusting (Source: Newsome 2009a, p.30).

He reluctantly set up his own factory farm for meat chickens in order to investigate the whole production process and ended up disgusted by the appalling conditions under which 95% of British poultry is reared (Source: Anon ndd np link).

... in tonight's first episode, Fearnley-Whittingstall sets out to expose the evils of factory farming, only to find that factory farmers refuse to show him around their operations. Undeterred, he decides to set up his own farm - half intensive, half free-range - with the aid of a maverick chicken farmer from Northern Ireland. The life of a British factory chicken looks horrific - crammed in 17 to the square metre, they live just 49 days from the egg to the slaughter and never see sunlight. They get just half an hour of darkness a day because artificial light keeps them feeding. They're allowed their 30 minutes of night only because any less would have them dying in uneconomical numbers. As Fearnley-Whittingstall gets his own house of horrors up and running, he has his first go at what will become a daily chore - snapping the tiny necks of sick or undersized chicks (Source: Newsome 2009b, p.30).

When poultry farmers refused to let him inside their sheds he set up his own experiment, dividing a shed into half free-range and half intensive. Intensive birds may be crammed together at around 19 per square metre, but their drink dispensers must be spotless and there are strict rules to be followed. Any bird that seems to be struggling is immediately killed. At one point in the series, Fearnley-Whittingstall cries because he cannot face killing another bird. He provides his free-range chickens with straw bales for shade, miniature footballs to kick and CDs to peck (Source: White 2007 np link).

During his Hugh’s Chicken Run shows, residents of the Devon town of Axminster were invited to see free-range and intensive systems running alongside each other in a shed; many left in tears (Source: Hickman 2008 np link).

This series isn't just about how our culture treats chickens. It's about how it treats people too (Source: Orr 2008, p.22link)

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

Fearnley-Whittingstall, 42, said he had first become aware of the scale of death in the industry when he worked with a maggot farmer in Essex who used dead chickens from a poultry plant as feed. ‘This guy was taking delivery of truckloads of dead birds for his maggots, and at that point I realised the true story of the poultry industry was quite shocking,’ said Fearnley-Whittingstall (Source: White 2007 np link).

[Whittingstall] ‘There were certainly moments of doubt, especially about creating our own intensive chicken farm,' he says. 'On different days there were different anxieties. On the one hand I was doing the opposite of what I would normally do when raising chickens. For me, putting in an order for two-and-half-thousand chicks and knowing they weren't going to have a very nice life felt very weird and paradoxical and of uncertain outcome. But I also wondered whether the intentions behind it would be understood or whether people might have thought it was an over-dramatic or attention-seeking or gratuitous way to approach the issue.’ ... Chicken Run was a gamble. 'We're not the first people to have looked at the poultry industry and thrown up our hands and asked consumers: is this really what you want to eat? But in the past, it's tended to be current-affairs documentaries with clandestine filming, programmes of a sort that either people find too dry or that they deliberately shut out because they don't want to know. Or they do know, but it washes over them: they think, ‘It's not relevant to me and my chicken in my supermarket because I'm sure they're quite nice.’ I think that by personalising it, and by me being quite affected by it at times, makes it clear that it absolutely is relevant to you in your supermarket if you buy that kind of chicken' (Source: Seal 2008, p.18 link).

I was an industrial chicken farmer. It was not a happy experience. Stepping into the dark, musty shed, the whack of ammonia was overwhelming. I always checked the stock with a knot in my stomach, hoping I wouldn’t find a dead bird. Or worse, an injured bird. Then you have to wring its neck. It’s a good day, and a rare day, that you’re not dropping a little feathered corpse into a bin. I set up this experimental unit for a Channel 4 programme, Hugh’s Chicken Run, because it was difficult to find intensive farmers who would give us unfettered access in order to film. Raising intensive chickens went against my deepest instincts, but my hope was that these birds would be agents for change. That was in January, and since then I’ve been trying to persuade people to eat more free-range chickens - or at least upgrade to a higher welfare standard (Source: Fearnley-Whittingstall 2008a np link).

…did I really have to start my own intensive farm to get people’s attention on this (yes, I did); did we misrepresent the industry by treating our birds worse than they do (no, we absolutely didn’t)? ... I have met people at both ends of the economic spectrum who don’t give two hoots about the suffering of chickens. I have also met (and in the past couple of weeks had many letters and emails from) mums, dads, students and workers from cities, towns and villages all over Britain, telling us how tough it is to feed their families on a tight budget – but nonetheless pledging their support for our campaign. A number of them have asked us to send a clear message to those who criticise our campaign as elitist or economically unrealistic: they don’t want to be patronised and insulted by the sweeping assertion that they are part of a socio-economic group who can’t afford to care. They have seen how these birds are treated, and they no longer want any part of it (Source: Fearnley-Whittingstall 2008b np link).

Discussion / Responses

Hugh's Chicken Run means more of us than ever before now know that 850 million birds are reared and slaughtered each year in Britain - and just five per cent of them are free-range or organic. More consumers than ever know Freedom Food does not have to mean a free-range or organic bird - it can be a bird which has had a standard of life approved by the RSPCA. But the statistic that says it all is that it's possible to buy a chicken for less than a pint of beer. ‘What Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has got across is quite a complex series of boring facts that a lot of us who work in the industry know but wouldn't normally be of interest to the wider public.’ So says Clare Gerbrands, who runs farmers' markets in Gloucester, Malmesbury, Stroud, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Swindon with her husband Kardien (Source: Anon 2008e, p.19).

Like any mother, I care about what I feed my family, but watching Hugh's Chicken Run on Monday night really stuck in the throat. The posh double-barrelled one went beetling down in the Land Rover from his delightful farm to the local council estate, where he set the ignorant natives straight about their nasty poultry habit. One resident had bought two cheap chickens from Tesco and made himself a roast dinner with too egg-centric vegetables. It looked delicious. But no, Hugh was on hand to point out that paying less than four quid for a bird was shameful and morally indefensible. Really? I bet I wasn't the only one who cheered when a single mother murmured that Hugh had some nice ideas about animal welfare, but he should try feeding a family on her budget. In an ideal world, every chicken would be raised in the sun-ripened pastures of South- West France with its own Jacuzzi and personal acupuncturist. But, back here on earth, many hard-working mums have to decide whether their families matter more than their feathered friends. If it's miracles you want, try pulling a wishbone, boys. In the meantime, please stop ladling out the guilt (Source: Pearson 2008,  p.15link).

AGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH Hugh you really get up my nose! IF people could AFFORD to buy free range organic chickens they would but the simple fact of the matter is some people just don’t have the financial freedom to allow them to make the choice! In most cases I don’t think it’s that people don’t care it’s a matter of not being able to afford to care. Before my partner was made redundant I could quite happily put free range and organic products in my trolley but these days I really have to watch what I’m spending so if that means buying 2 chicken for 7 quid then that what I’ll do ! You make me (and probably thousands of others) awful that I’m contributing towards battery farming etc but until the supermarkets bring their prices down I’ll continue buying cheap chicken. We’re in a recession and unemployment is sky high so campaigns such as these are a tad insensitive …before long I won’t be able to afford to buy a bloody chicken whether its intensively farmed or not (Source: SJJ1977 2009 np link).

It was not a good idea to promote dearer food when people are already feeling the effects of rising food prices because of the current economic situation (Source: Reid in Wilkes 2008 np link).

When I watched Hugh's programme I thought the single mother had a point when she said the battery chickens were all she could afford. At the end of the day farmers have to make a living, it is a vicious circle (Source: Barker in Fairhurst 2008 np).

ANGRY Hayley Cross has cried 'Fowl!' at posh telly chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for portraying her as the villain in his TV campaign against factory-farmed chicken. Single mum Hayley-a fan of the cheap two-for-£ 5 supermarket birds accused this week's three-part Channel 4 show, Hugh's Chicken Run, of editing footage to make her look BOSSY and SELFISH. She said: ‘I've been completely stitched up by Hugh. Everything I said was twisted to turn ME into a hate figure and make HIM look good.’ Horrors. Hayley claims she was punished for challenging Eton-educated Hugh's bid to convert us to the free range, £8-a-time chicken he sells and complaining that millions on low incomes can't afford it. As part of the show, mum-of-two Hayley, 36, agreed to rear free-range hens on an allotment with neighbours from the Millwey Estate in Axminster, Devon, where Hugh runs his organic farm shop. They were shown the horrors of cramped factory farm conditions and signed up to raise, kill, cook and eat their own birds. But viewers were stunned when Hugh caught Hayley in the local supermarket shoving the cut-price intensively reared meat into her trolley. Internet chatrooms were hit with comments like: ... ‘She's horrible.’ Hayley, who broke a pact only to buy free-range over Christmas, hit back: ‘I'm on a very low income. I claim housing benefit. I can't splash my budget around. I'm not against Hugh. I'm 100 per cent FOR his campaign. But I just can't afford to be part of it’ (Source: Constable 2008, np).

Single mum Hayley Cross - dubbed ‘Mother Hen’ on the show - has endured internet name-calling and derision after admitting on screen that feeding her family is more important than the way chickens are reared. The 36-year-old part-time secretary said: ‘Hugh is a lovely bloke and it must have taken great guts for him to do what he has done. But I knew from the start that I would be presented as a standard bird-eater and that Hugh was there to convert me. But he didn't manage it. People aren't seeing the whole picture. Even though I back Hugh's campaign one hundred per cent I can't afford to back him financially. I'm a single mother on a low wage just like thousands around the country. Feeding my children is my main concern. If the prices were reduced I would be there at the till with my freerange chicken.’ Fearnley-Whittingstall, 42, took families from the Millwey estate to a battery farm to show them the conditions in which chickens are reared and was horrified when some told him they would carry on buying by price. Axminster councillor Doug Hull, who represents the 2,500 residents, said: ‘The feeling here is that he has blown it and has over-egged his case. He has upset a lot of people by talking about Millwey as the rough end of town. It is most unfair and a lot of very nice people live there. But we live in Devon where the take-home pay for lots of people is not that great.’ For many Britons, the humble chicken is now their major source of protein, a fact that has seen them farmed on an industrial scale (Source: Winter 2008, p.39)

... by taking Chicken Run to an estate on his local town of Axminster where he set up a free-range chicken run with the locals, he was taking the argument to people who didn't feel they could afford free-range chicken. 'Animal welfare isn't a class issue, or even an economic one, it's an ethical issue and people on a very low income have ethics. We've had some amazing letters from people on income support, who are jobless, or who are single mums, saying, ‘Don't let anyone tell you that people with no money don't care about chickens.’ I had one in my hand this morning, saying, ‘I have to feed my family on £35 a week, but I still wouldn't dream of buying an intensively farmed chicken’ (Source: Seal 2008, p.18 link).

The thing is, it’s very easy to mount one’s high horse on a topic, but it can be somewhat more difficult living up to such high aspirations. For example, my wife and I decided not to eat battery farmed chickens a while back, and we have been enjoying the superior flavour of free-range birds since. It’s easy to make an informed choice when buying a whole bird, but what about all the other chicken products you might buy? Chicken escalopes, chicken kiev, chicken roll for sandwiches, chicken soup, pre-packaged sandwiches, et al. Are we really to assume that free-range meat is being used to make any of these products? Probably not. The packaging certainly doesn’t tell you (Source: Hurst 2008 link).

In Hugh’s Chicken Run ... the presenter angrily claimed that nobody from the poultry industry would allow him access to their farms so that he could judge conditions for himself. However, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall had been granted unrestricted access to three commercial farms, but none of the footage from three days of filming was included in the series (Source: Delgado 2008 np link).

What particularly outraged chicken farmers was Fearnley-Whittingstall's claim that he had had to build his own factory farm because no poultry farmer would let him any closer than the end of the phone. ‘You've got chicken farms with barbed wire all around them, which is not necessary to keep the birds in,’ he said, in justification of his gimmick. The claim went down particularly badly with the Devon poultry company Lloyd Maunder, which subsequently revealed that the chef had spent three days filming at farms, including an intensive unit, where the company's commercial director, Andrew Maunder, had engaged in a ‘robust debate’ on camera with the campaigner. When the show aired this week, all that footage had been cut and no mention was made of Lloyd Maunder's contribution. Channel 4 claimed that the sequence was cut because Lloyd Maunder also took part in another of its programmes, Jamie's Fowl Dinners, shown last night, and that the footage was held out of the Fearnley-Whittingstall programme ‘to avoid repetition between our respective programmes’ (Source: Vallely 2008, p.46 link).

‘You have to bear in mind that Hugh failed the inspections from the Assured Food Standards when they came to inspect his farm before his TV programme. They found serious shortcomings. His farm was not a commercial entity in the sense that it would have been allowed to sell any chickens to any organisation, including Tesco.’ The source added: ‘He’s not whiter than white on this.’ In the Hugh’s Chicken Run series Fearnley-Whittingstall created two chicken units in Devon, one an intensively reared farm and the other free range. The mass produced birds suffered high rates of defects such as leg burn and had to be culled in greater numbers (Source: Prynn 2008 np link).

Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, criticised the documentary as ‘seriously flawed’… ‘Hugh's farm was not of the same standard as a typical indoor poultry farm. ‘His shed was totally substandard. It was not a facility which anyone in the industry would attempt to grow chickens in. ‘Clearly he was not interested in displaying realistically the quality of stockmanship and management that is required’ (Source: Delgado 2008 np link).

The British Poultry Council has come out and said that they think it is misrepresenting the high standards in modern British Chicken farming. ‘Poultry houses are scientifically designed and equipped to ensure the ventilation and other needs of the chickens are properly provided for. It is highly scientific that the temporary premises used to rear chickens in the experiment failed to obtain Assured Chicken Production certification, and the apparently poor welfare outcome is not unexpected’… Some farmers have been more supportive ‘I think (or certainly hope) the real losers in this are going to be the supermarkets’ (Source: Davies 2008 np link). 

As part of his campaign, Fearnley-Whittingstall tried to transform Axminster into the UK’s first free-range town, and he was the first to admit the project met with mixed results. It wasn’t just the supermarkets who were unhappy with the original series, however. Hugh also fell foul of Charles Bourns, the National Farmers’ Union’s head of poultry, who criticised it in the Press. The chef meets him to persuade him they are actually fighting a common enemy-the supermarket price wars which Fearnley-Whittingstall believes are driving producers out of business (Source: Anon 2009 p.27).

ANGRY chicken farmers say TV chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are ‘playing God’ by campaigning against battery farming. They claim they will go out of business as buyers bring in cheap chicken from abroad, where welfare standards are lower. Ian Johnson, of Exeter, Devon, said: ‘They should be aiming at supermarkets for paying prices which mean farmers have to cut costs to break even. ‘When they start playing God with our industry, they've stepped too far.’ John Riddell, of the National Farmers' Union, said: ‘Supermarkets will import from Thailand and Brazil where chickens live in far worse conditions’ (Anon 2008d, p.15 link).

Impacts / Outcomes

Channel 4 food programme Hugh's Chicken Run got off to a flying start last night with a sizeable 3.4m viewers (13.8%) tuning in at 9pm. The hour-long programme is the first in a trilogy of documentaries made by Keo Films that sees TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall try to raise awareness of the conditions of mass-produced chicken. The audience for the first show rose from 3.2m (13.1%) to 3.6m (14.6%) in the final 15-minutes. Hugh's Chicken Run, which marked the start of the broadcaster's Big Food Fight strand, got an audience twice the size of the channel's slot average for last year of 1.7m (7.2%). A further 200,000 viewers watched the show on the timeshifted channel C4+1 (Source: Rogers 2009, np).

Something pretty amazing has come out of this: everybody has been talking about the chickens. In the supermarket, at the bus stop, out with their friends, on Facebook – all over the place. People have started to talk to each other about where their food comes from, to think about the real costs behind our supermarket price wars (for animals and farmers) and to question the place of chicken as a everyday food (Source: Clarke 2008 np link).

Watching the differences become more and more apparent as the birds grew was a real eye-opener for me. Whilst we mainly buy free range, I had started to become dubious about the differences when I saw the same producer names on both types. But after watching this, I’m a total convert. Quite simply, the methods used to intensively rear chicken are disgusting. If you want to eat meat that has been sitting in its own shit for its entire 39 day life, go right ahead but apart from any issues of animal welfare, if you want to see where Bird Flu will make the leap to humans in Europe, that’s where it’ll be (Source: O’Neil 2008 np link).

I watched the program on both nights. IT MADE ME SIT UP AND THINK. I went yesterday to do the shopping.I cut out half the biscuits and rubbish and bought two free range chickens and free range chicken breasts. The difference in the taste is amazing. I feel I am making a difference and will continue to by free range chickens and eggs. Thankyou for opening my eyes (Source: Gardiner 2008 np link).

I would like to congratulate Hugh for bringing the barbaric farming of chickens to my attention. I knew chickens were farmed on a huge scale and guess i was being the proverbial Ostrich and burying my head in the sand rather than confront it. Although I also live on a small budget I have decided to eat chicken less often so I can afford to buy free range, I will also make my chicken go further. The day after the programme I decided to go to Asda to buy my first free range bird only to find they didn’t have any. The only alternative I found one ONE lonely organic bird sitting on the shelf at a cost of over ten pounds, too much for my pocket I’m afraid so I left with nothing rather that buy the usual intensely farmed bird. I have spoken to lots of friends who are also moving over to free range, so don’t despair Hugh the word is out and your hard work has made a difference it may not have grabbed Axminster as you would have liked but you have grabbed many of us throughout the nation, Thank You Hugh (Source: Susie 2008 np link).

The manager of a bar and restaurant in Clifton was so shocked after watching a documentary about battery farmed chickens he refuses to use them on the menu. James Meloney, who manages Henry Africas bar and restaurant in Whiteladies Road, has emptied the freezer of 'supermarket' chickens and pledged to use only free-range birds on the menu from now on. After watching the Channel 4 documentary, Hugh's Chicken Run, Mr Meloney has started his search for a local free-range chicken source. Mr Meloney said: ‘When I find a local supplier I am planning on visiting the farm myself so that I can see exactly what conditions the birds are reared in. The programme has been a real eye-opener for me. I am absolutely appalled and just can't face eating poultry that's come through that kind of production line - and I don't expect any of my customers to either’ (Source: Anon 2008f, p.13).

A CHAIN of Indian restaurants based in the City is switching to free-range chicken after TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall reported on the conditions endured by factory farmed birds. Jamal Hirani, chief executive and founder of Tiffinbites, says he can no longer face serving broiler chickens. He expects the move to cost £150,000 a year but says menu prices will not rise to cover this. Mr Hirani added: ‘Hugh's Chicken Run series (on Channel 4) has really affected the nation. We immediately began receiving queries from customers as to the nature of the chicken we serve and myself and all staff instantly knew we had to ensure all our poultry was free range.’ Fearnley-Whittingstall said: ‘We hope many other Indian restaurants, both independent and chains, will follow Tiffinbites' excellent example and decide to go free range’ (Source: Anon 2008g, p.20).

Pupils from John Bramston School, Witham are welcoming some feathered friends to the coop as they embark on a moral challenge. Year 11 students were the first to get their hands on the 10 chickens which will become a permanent fixture at the Spinks Lane school. Assistant principal Daren White said: ‘I have chickens at home and the pupils were quite interested, so we asked the school governors and it went from there. ‘We have been watching Hugh's Chicken Run in social science lessons and the guys were really shocked. They have also seen alarming footage on the internet video site YouTube. They have been really hands on with the project so far, with staining the coop and getting everything ready. They will be able to collect the eggs at lunch times and clean the chickens out after school.’ The chickens have kindly been donated by Jean Grice from Essex Battery Hen Welfare trust. Student Craig Lillywhite, 16, said: ‘The conditions we watched were awful and we wanted to try to make a difference. I have even switched to free range chicken at home because of it.’ The pupils are now planning to sell the fresh eggs from the main reception (Source: Anon 2008h, p.38).

Chicken Run has had an impact. [Fearnley-Whittingstall:] 'Informally, we've had lots of reports that sales of free-range and organic chickens are increasing since the programme went out; and formally from Sainsbury's who've said their free-range and organic birds are flying off the shelves. We've also heard from the biggest poultry producer in the West Country, who does organic, free-range and Freedom-Food chickens, that they can't keep up with the demand for free-range because the supermarkets have been increasing their orders'  (Source: Seal 2008, p.18 link).

‘There has been’, the tangle-haired presenter admits, ‘something of a backlash from people who didn’t like to be made to feel guilty about the kind of food they were eating’ (Source: Vallely 2008:np link).

John Kirkpatrick, from Dungiven in Co Londonderry, told the Belfast Telegraph that he has been inundated with calls after he helped the TV chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall set up an experimental poultry unit comparing standard and free range systems. Their progress was aired this week as part of Hugh's Chicken Run, which ran for the past three nights on Channel 4. ... But when Mr Kirkpatrick's industry contacts got wind that he was to be involved in filming with Hugh, well known for advocating 'freedom' farming, they were not impressed. Mr Kirkpatrick said he had even received a call warning him he wouldn't work in the industry anywhere in the UK again. He told the North West Telegraph: ‘I was warned it would jeopardise my future career in the poultry industry by taking this project on. I had calls from people making some of the issues clearer, as if I didn't already know. Several people mentioned what I was doing and why. But at the end of the day I've been in the industry and I've seen what the poultry industry is capable of - good and bad. You're seen to be aiding somebody who is against factory farming and that is one of the things that is a bit difficult for people within the poultry industry to follow. I know the people personally and I can understand where they're coming from, but we've got to let the public see how the production of poultry meat in the UK is carried out.’ Mr Kirkpatrick said he first met Mr Fearnley Whittingstall at a food meeting in Dorset where they discussed their concerns about the poultry industry. ‘Our opinions were very, very similar, hence the reason I got involved,’ he said. ‘I think this has been very beneficial - it has stimulated a debate in the industry. I've had all sorts of phone calls and discussions this week, some of it positive, some not so positive.’ The Dungiven man said he is hoping the programme will spark major changes in the broiler chicken industry similar to what has already taken place in the egg industry. He did come under fire from farmers before the programme was aired but he insists that has now changed because of the emphasis on how the main supermarket chains are forcing farmers to adopt a low-margin system (Source: McKee 2008 link).

Axminster has demanded that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall ... apologises to its residents, saying his series, Hugh's Chicken Run, portrayed them in a bad light. In the programme Hugh referred to residents of the town's largest council estate as the ‘Millway Mob’ and the townsfolk claim he portrayed the estate as rough. Hugh was also criticised for his horror that some were prepared to put cost over ethics when buying chicken, even after he exposed them to intensive farming conditions. Axminster town council passed a unanimous vote asking the old Etonian to say sorry for looking down on the town's residents. Shopkeeper Terry Fisher says his customers were angry at how they were portrayed on the programme. What's more, his customers still buy normal chickens, not Hugh's £8 free range versions (Source: Heffernan 2008, p.12 link).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has written an open letter to people living in Axminster, East Devon, following concerns about a television programme on chicken farming, in which a local housing estate was described as ‘the tough end of tow’ and depicted with a sign covered in graffiti. The TV chef, who is also a local farmer, defended himself against local rumours that he had called the Millwey estate ‘rough’, saying he had in fact described it as ‘tough.’ A prominent local councillor said the open letter would be welcomed by Axminster residents (Source: Anon 2008g, np).

Lloyd Maunder is producing record numbers of chicken reared in 'higher welfare systems' since two celebrity chefs put the spotlight on the UK's poultry production. The Willand-based poultry firm hopes its new Freedom Food labelled birds will dominate its output given the unprecedented demand. Company directors made the move after Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's respective programmes were broadcast on Channel 4 in January. Andrew Maunder, commercial director for the company, said: ‘The programmes literally turned the poultry market on its head. Five months down the road, customers are still choosing higher welfare chicken products, and we've been working hard with our local farmers to increase production to meet demand’ (Source: Anon 2008i, p.2).

It’s now two months since the end of Hugh’s Chicken Run, and we seem to have made a difference. Waitrose says sales of free-range chickens are up by 22% and organic is up by 39%. Asda plans to stock 25% more free-range chicken by the end of May, and 50% more by the end of September.  Somerfield says free-range sales are up by 50%, and sales of ‘higher welfare’ fresh poultry are up by 40%... Tesco has decided to upgrade its Willow Farm birds to the RSPCA Freedom Food audit system (Source: Fearnley-Whittingstall 2008b np link).

Sales of factory-farmed chickens have slumped since a high-profile campaign raised awareness of the cruelty at the heart of the poultry industry and implored consumers to pay more to improve the animals’ welfare. In a victory for campaigners who have fought to expose the short and brutal lives of broiler birds, shoppers have bought millions more free-range and organic birds while leaving mass-produced chickens on the shelves. Sales of free-range poultry shot up by 35 per cent last month compared with January 2007, while sales of standard indoor birds fell by 7 per cent, according to a survey of 25,000 shoppers by the market research company TNS. Supermarkets have been stripped of free-range birds, prompting complaints from frustrated shoppers keen to embrace the movement away from intensive farming. The rise in sales would have been even higher if poultry producers had been able to keep up with demand. Many suppliers in the £2bn-a-year poultry industry are now expected to convert cramped chicken sheds into more spacious accommodation. Tesco, the country’s biggest retailer, has doubled its order for higher-welfare chickens while Sainsbury’s has been flabbergasted by the ‘unprecedented’ spurt in demand and forced to import free-range birds from France. In the weeks after the chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver launched a high-profile campaign on Channel 4, supermarkets had stated that sales of ‘standard’ chickens had held up, and even increased. But the new national sales data suggests that shoppers’ priorities have shifted dramatically. If the TNS data was extrapolated to the rest of the UK, it suggests sales of factory-farmed chickens dipped by 10 million, while shoppers bought 4.4 million more free-range chickens. Overall, chicken sales were down by 4.8 per cent, perhaps because many people, when faced with an absence of free-range chicken, simply bought no chicken … According to separate polling by ACNielsen, half of the four million viewers who saw the shows said they would buy better chicken (Source: Hickman 2008 np link).

Recently Hugh has released another chicken escapade which I saw last night called ‘Chicken, Hugh and Tesco too. What happened was that we were shown the progress that was made by most of the major supermarkets apart from one certain supermarket who is the biggest player in the British market. Tesco. In order to voice his opinion Hugh bought 1 share in Tesco giving him access to the AGM. In order to submit a ‘resolution’ to upgrade the conditions of chicken farms to the RSPCA Freedom Foods standards he had to be backed by 100 shareholders with a combined 200,000 shares…Tesco then said that this issue was being treated as a ‘special’ resolution and that in order to pass the vote 75% had to vote In favour of Hugh. The votes were counted and 10% voted in favour of the motion and 9% abstained (Source: Alastair 2009 np link).

The campaign reached a climax last June when Hugh appealed to Tesco's Board and shareholders at their AGM. With the help of Compassion in World Farming, he presented Resolution 17 in favour of the ‘Five Freedoms’ for chickens sold by the supermarket giant (Source: Anon ndf np link).

With an amazing 278 MP signatures at the close of the parliamentary session (November 2009), an Early Day Motion (EDM) calling for improved welfare of chickens came fifth behind calls to support solar energy and justice for Equitable Life policyholders. Over 40% of all UK MPs supported EDM 581, calling for clear and honest labelling on chicken meat and urging the UK Government to improve the welfare of chickens reared for meat. Mike Hancock MP, sponsor of EDM 581 says ‘Animal welfare is an important issue among UK politicians. The strong support for this parliamentary motion should send a clear message through the UK Government and to the supermarkets that the welfare of chickens must be taken seriously. ‘I thank the supporters of the Chicken Out! campaign for bringing this issue and parliamentary motion to the attention of their local MPs’. Chicken Out! is delighted that a parliamentary motion has achieved a record number of MPs’ publicly showing support for higher welfare standards for chickens. With over 167,000 people now signed up to the Chicken Out! campaign and this unprecedented level of parliamentary support for animal welfare, it clearly shows that the welfare of chickens is being taken seriously (Source: Anon nda np link).

References / Further Reading

Alastair (2009) Hugh-Ferarnley-Whittingstall (Hugh’s Chicken Run), ( last accessed 21 June 2011)

Anon (nda) Hugh’s Chicken Run. ( last accessed 21 June 2011)

Anon (ndb) Hugh’s Chicken Run episode 1. ( last accessed 21 June 2011) 

Anon (ndc) Hugh’s Chicken Run episode 4. ( last accessed 21 June 2011)

Anon (ndd), Hugh’s Chicken Run. (  last accessed 20 June 2011)

Anon (nde) Hugh’s Chicken Run. ( last accessed 21 June 2011) 

Anon (ndf) Political Campaign. ( last accessed 27 June 2011)

Anon (2008a) A turning point for nation's consumers. Western morning news 9 January, p.10

Anon (2008b) Food fight: round one watched by 3.4m. The guardian 8 January

Anon (2008c) Thousands join urban chicken craze. ( last accessed 27 June 2011)

Anon (2008d) Farmers in rage over telly chefs. The mirror (UK) 9 January, p.15 ( last accessed 28 June 2011)

Anon (2008e) Chicken: it's all about the price. The Gloucester citizen 12 January, p.19

Anon (2008f) TV shocker provides food for thought. Bristol evening post 14 January, p.39

Anon (2008f) Indian restaurants boss bans factory chickens. London evening standard 16 January, p.20

Anon (2008g) Chef's letter to calm upset over TV show. Western morning news January 28th, p.3

Anon (2008h) Pupils are making a difference. Essex chronicle 13 March, p.38

Anon (2008i) Welfare poultry gives firm boost. Western daily press 27 May, p.2

Anon (2009) Hugh aims to rule the roost. Western mail, 26 January, p.27

Billen, A. (2008) Hugh cries foil play. The times 8 January, p.19

Clarke, S. (2008) The week we talked chicken: Hugh’s Chicken Run and Jamie’s Fowl Dinners. ( last accessed 21 June 2011) 

Clawson, T. (2010) The unauthorized guide to doing business the Jamie Oliver way: 10 secrets of the irrepressible one-man brand. Chichester: Capstone

Constable, N. (2008) Hugh rotten little clucker. News of the world (UK) 13 January

Cummings, J. (2008) Letter your say – Stop being rotten to chickens. Coventry telegraph 5 July

Davies, I. (2008) Mixed views on Hugh’s Chicken Run.,( last accessed 21st June 2011)

Davies, C (2009) Factory chickens to suffer under new EU rules, says RSPCA. The guardian 25 August, p.5( last accessed 21 June 2011)

Delgado, M. (2008) TV Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall accused of misleading viewers in controversial chicken farming series. Daily mail 13 January ( last accessed 27 June 2011)

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Fearnley-Whittingstall, H. (2008a) Poultry Is Not a Class Issue. The guardian 19 January ( last accessed 27 June 2011)

Fearnley-Whittingstall, H. (2008b) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in a farmyard fight with Tesco welfare. The sunday times29 June ( last accessed 27 June 2011)

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Grant, J. (2010) Co-opportunity: join up for a sustainable, resilient, prosperous world. Chichester: Wiley.

Heffernan, C. (2008) People. The guardian (UK) 17 January, p.12 ( last accessed 28 June 2011)

Hickman, M. (2008) The campaign that changed the eating habits of a nation. The Independent 28 February ( last accessed 27 June 2011)

Hughes, J. (2011) The end of cheap chicken. The grocer magazine 21 May, p.53

Hurst, D. (2008) Hugh’s Chicken Run – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. 9 January ( last accessed 21 June 2011)

Jackson, P., Ward, N. & Russell, P. (2009) Moral economies of food and geographies of responsibility. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, p.12-24( accessed 28 June 2011)

McKee, L. (2008) TV probe farmer's 'career on line': Ulsterman warned over chef's poultry investigation. Belfast telegraph10 January ( last accessed 28 June 2011)

Newsome, B. (2009a) Sunday, April 19 - Pay TV. The age 16 April, p.30

Newsome, B. (2009b) Sunday, April 12 - Pay TV. The age 9 April, p.30

Newsome, B. (2009c) Sunday, April 26 - Pay TV. The age  20 April, p.18

O’Neill, C. (2008) Review of Hugh’s Chicken Run. 13 January ( last accessed 28 June 2011)

Orr, D. (2008) The birdman delivers a coop de grâce. The independent 8 January, p.22 ( last accessed 28 June 2011)

ParAvion (2008) Poultry is not a class issue. The Guardian 19 January ( last accessed 27 June 2011) 

Pearson, A. (2008) Sorry Hugh, you’re far too egg-centric. Daily Mail 9 January ( last accessed 28 June 2011)

Phill (2008) Marxism and chicken sheds. 7 January ( accessed 27 June 2011)

Pile, S. (2008) Celebrity chefs with an eye for the birds. Daily telegraph (UK) 12 January p.18 ( last accessed 28 June 2011)

Prynn, J. (2008) Get Stuffed, Tesco tells chef over £1.99 chicken. London evening standard 6 February ( last accessed 27 June 2011)

Rogers, J. (2009) Chicken run picks up 3.4m for C4. Broadcast 8 January

Seal, R. (2008) They're green, they're ethical, they've changed the way we eat. Observer food monthly 27 January, p.18 ( last accessed 28 June 2011)

Simpson, C. (2008) Great chicken debate puts shoppers in a flap. Coventry telegraph 8 January

SJJ1977. (2009) Why I’m hen pecking Tesco: reader comment. The Guardian 26 January ( last accessed 27 June 2011) 

Susie (2008) Last night on television: comment. The telegraph 8 January ( last accessed 20 June 2011)

Vallely, P. (2008) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: crying fowl. The Independent 12 January ( last accessed 28 June 2011) 

Walton, J. (2008) Last night on television. The telegraph 8 January ( last accessed 20 June 2011)

White, C. (2009) Ethical living: food campaigns. The observer 14 June, p.21

White, R. (2007) Humane Hugh wants you to give up cheap chicken. The sunday times 30 December ( last accessed 27 June 2011)

Wilkes, D. (2008) Tesco shareholders finally kill off TV chef’s bid to make us all eat organic chicken as kitchen rival tells him to shut up. Daily mail 27 June ( last accessed 27 June 2011) 

Winter, S. (2008) Will celebrity chefs kill off the Sunday roast? Sunday express 13 January, p.39.

Compiled by Ellie Beattie, Fliss Browner, Rose Hughes, Rosie Marsh, Joe Parrilla, Alice Raeburn and Maddie Redfern, edited by Alice Goodbrook and Ian Cook (last updated June 2011). Page created for as part of the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module, Exeter University.