The protestors displayed images of deformed ‘Frankenchickens’ and demanded their removal from the retailer’s shelves as more than 20 Morrisons stores were targeted across the UK.
The protests came as Morrisons launches a range of chicken reared to higher welfare standards - but the campaigners described this ‘small’ range as a ‘cheap’ gesture and accused the retailer of continuing to source the vast majority of its chicken meat from farms where, they say, birds bred to grow 400 per cent faster than naturally, are reared intensively and killed for the shops at just five weeks old.
Morrisons told the Banbury Guardian last week it would not tolerate or look the other way if they found malpractice in its chicken farms. The store said the campaigners were targeting Morrisons in a bid to make other stores feel obliged to change their practices.
The campaigners from Open Cages say M&S, Waitrose, KFC and Subway are among hundreds of companies to have pledged to stop selling these intensively reared birds and called on Morrisons to follow their lead.
Spokesman Connor Jackson said: “Last year, undercover filming found monstrous and deformed chickens collapsing in their own waste on four farms supplying Morrisons’ welfare-assured Butcher’s on Market Street meat label.
"On every farm birds were surrounded by rotting bodies, suffering chemical burns from laying in their own urine and faeces and barely able to spread their wings amidst the crowded conditions.”
On Saturday, in 21 cities and towns over the country, the 'horrifying' conditions were revealed to Morrisons customers. Parodying the retailer’s ad campaigns, a billboard truck claimed ‘There’s nothing good about this chicken.’
Former chicken farmer Doug Maw led the protests in West Sussex following his dismissal from the company as a warehouse worker for urging better welfare standards.
Mr Jackson said: “Don’t be fooled by the cheap gestures and PR spin. For years now Morrisons has sat on their hands and done the absolute minimum possible to improve chicken welfare, whilst pedalling out feel good marketing campaigns and wearing only the costume of a company that cares about animals.”
“Morrisons say they never tolerate malpractice in their supply chain. But as many as 30 per cent of Frankenchickens can barely walk because of painful lameness and deformities.
“Millions of these monstrous birds die from heart attacks because they can’t handle growing 400 per cent faster than natural, millions more have their necks broken to simply put them out of their misery. Morrisons tolerates this on a daily basis, because the scenes we filmed are the norm in their supply chain. These are the expected consequences of the poor welfare standards that Morrisons has chosen.
“Morrisons has said that procedures are now in place to ‘significantly reduce’ the chances of the problems in the footage happening in the future. But experts like the RSPCA agree these welfare issues will remain. Painful lameness, deformities, and heart attacks are known to be unavoidable for fast growing chickens,” he said.
Over 300 companies across the UK and Europe have signed the Better Chicken Commitment (BCC) meaning that by 2026 they will sell only slower growing chickens reared with far more living space. Sainsbury's recently pledged to stop sourcing chickens from overcrowded conditions for all own-brand meat by 2023.
Mr Jackson said: “Let’s remember what we’re asking for - we simply want Morrisons to follow the hundreds of other companies like M&S, Waitrose, KFC and Subway who have already committed to taking Frankenchickens off the shelves.
These practices are opposed by the vast majority of the British public, and Morrisons could make this pledge overnight if they spent as much time on their welfare standards as they did playing PR games.
"Morrisons has not signed the BCC and falsely claims to ‘go beyond’ it. The policy prohibits fast growing chickens and crowded conditions as a baseline. Other measures Morrisons has introduced, such as in house hatching, do not address either the speed of growth or crowded environment.”
The Better Chicken Commitment is a set of science backed improved welfare standards. In February, Defra endorsed the policy and pledged to ‘prioritise’ its implementation through subsidies.
Nearly a quarter of a million people have signed Chris Packham’s petition asking retailers like Morrisons to sign up. A recent YouGov poll found that 78 per cent of Brits oppose the use of farming practices which cause animals to suffer to produce cheap food. A majority strongly opposes them.
Last week Morrisons said: "We care deeply about animal welfare. All our regular chicken is raised to above Red Tractor standards. We are also the only retailer in Europe to ask our fresh chicken suppliers to require chicken to be born into the barn in which it will be raised by 2025.
“Eighty per cent of our fresh chicken meets this standard already. We also actively monitor for any malpractice in our supply chain; we will never tolerate it or look the other way and if we ever find it, we will act swiftly and decisively."
The spokesman said Morrisons believes it is in line with Tesco and Sainsbury by committing to offer a range of chicken adhering to all nine of the Better Chicken Commitment standards.
The Humane League says: “In recent decades there has been an explosion in the amount of white meat being consumed. In the UK, over 1bn chickens are being raised for meat - the vast majority on factory farms in crowded, often filthy sheds until they are slaughtered at just five weeks old.
“For these five weeks they grow unnaturally fast, causing debilitating injuries. They are bred for profit, so the priority is getting the most breast meat in the shortest time. These young chickens often struggle to walk, because of their weight, and can suffer heart disease due to too much pressure on their organs.”