FEBRUARY 29, 2008: Nearly twofifths of consumers have switched to free-range chicken since lastmonth’s media coverage of intensively farmed birds, according to research.

The welfare group Compassion in World Farming report that the growing ethical trend arose after a series of Channel 4 chicken programmes in January and sustained media coverage about the reality behind cheap chicken production. According to research carried out by G2 Data Dynamics, the trend was most prevalent in 25-34 year olds and the over 65s with 41 percent of each group switching to free-range. The food programmes showed celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver highlighting the many welfare implications associated with intensive chicken farming.Compassion in World Farming’s Food Policy Manager, Rowen West-Henzell, said: “This is great news. Consumers were shown the reality behind cheap chicken production andare now making more informed choices.”The switch to free-range hasn’t just been good for chickens. Free-range poultry farmers have seen a real increase in demand that appears to be lasting. Poultry farmer Peter Colema, of Creedy Carver Chickens said to The Grocer that there has been a 15% increase in demand for free-range birds. He said: “There has been a significant upturn in demand for free-range birds… and we have gained a number of new customers. We thought it was speculation and would drop back … but it didn’t.”Although the general trend is towards buying free-range, the survey also found that 36% of people are currently committed to intensively produced chicken and will be for the foreseeable future. In a quote given to The Grocer by Grampian Country Food Group, Alasdair Cox reported that the increase in free-range chicken sales had not been ‘to the detriment of standard chicken sales’. Miss West-Henzell commented: “We hope to help all consumers see the value of buying free-range – both by continuing to give them the facts about cheap chicken production and by working with supermarkets who want to help all their customers make more ethical choices.”Country Smallholding has backed the Chicken Out! campaign on chicken welfare launched by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. See www.chickenout.tv

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