I’ve adapted the title somewhat but Do people know where their chicken comes from? is the headline of a recent article on the BBC website, and it proved to be one of the most popular items during the week that it was posted.

Apparently prompted by campaigns for changes to meat labeling, BBC journalist Tom de Castella paid a visit to broiler farm near Chesterfield, UK.

No horror stories

I think that his report deserves a read as it gives a balanced view of modern chicken production and attempts to answer why today’s rearing methods are employed and why birds are not produced in the way that the public often imagines.

De Castella does not mince his words, however, and his language is not littered with industry jargon or euphemisms. He describes the “huge” poultry shed as looking like a chemical plant. And he has sought comment from both animal welfare groups and farmers, so nobody can accuse him of being in the pocket of industry.

What de Castella does is to look at the practicalities of producing birds, and gives praise where praise is due.  And while on the one hand he says the smell of ammonia is “catching the throat,” and the shed floor is a mix of “sawdust and feces,” on the other he says: “In the soft light, a sea of chickens stretches as far as the eye can see, it’s not the grim battery environment some might imagine.”

Real consumer concerns?

In country where animal welfare is high on the agenda, such a poetic approach to modern farming is perhaps surprising, but as most readers will know and as de Castella points out, consumers don’t always practice what they preach.

The farmer interviewed by de Castella welcomes farm visits from journalists and schools, but questions whether consumers really want to know how their meat is produced.

De Castella explains that the meat and egg industries are very different businesses and tries to answer why so many eggs sold in the UK are free range why 94 percent of broiler meat is not.

While there is little in the BBC article that will be new to anyone working in the industry, the piece serves as a good example of how being transparent can work well for the sector, and the writer’s efforts would appear to have reached a broad audience.