Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jamie's Fowl Dinners: The Unseen Price to Cheap Eggs and Chicken

British chef Jamie Oliver is not as big a name as Rachael Ray or Emeril Lagasse in the United States, which is a shame. While our celebrity chefs seem self-obsessed and always looking for the next marketing deal (Rachael Ray-branded garbage bowls anyone?) Jamie does what no American chef has the courage to do - enlighten the masses to where their food actually comes from. His "Jamie's Fowl Dinners" special exposed the truth to how Britain's chickens and eggs are produced, very much in factory farm conditions widespread in the U.S.

On the egg and chicken business, he bemoans, "the industries behind which I believe have been pushed, pushed, and even bullied at times, to produce cheaper and cheaper food. I believe if we give you, the great British public, the credit and show you where your cheap eggs and where your cheap meat comes from, next time you go shopping you'll make better choices."

"You're talking about a living machine when it comes to modern chickens. It's not a real bird at all," naturalist Bill Oddie observes. Jungle fowl lays 5-10 eggs a year. Industrial hens lay 300 eggs a year.

"There's 20 million battery hens in sheds in the UK alone. And in my view, they are out of site and out of mind," says Jane Howorth of Battery Hen Welfare Trust, whose group has rescued 60,000 hens in four years and relocated them in homes.

Enriched cages, or "small bird colonies," will still be allowed in 2012 when battery cages will be banned in the UK. Astroturf is their nest. When Oliver asks Andrew Joret of the British Egg Industry Council "What would you say to people that felt there shouldn't be any caged birds at all?" The reply, "The question is what do customers want. It is all about price."

"It's simple. You get what you pay for. Cheap eggs means lower welfare and worse conditions for the hens. In the end, it's your choice," Oliver remarks.

What happens to spent chickens? Pass the MRM (Mechanically reclaimed meat)

"Roughly around one third of a grown man's body weight a year we eat in chicken," Oliver says of the Brits' consumption.

From birth to slaughter? A shocking 5 1/2 weeks. Part of the problem, Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall notes, is that "the supermarkets are fighting a price war on chicken."

The slaughter. Unlikely this quick and humane.

When an audience member prefers the tastes of the caged chicken, Oliver seems to agree with the opinion the man's palate is too used to junk food. "I can picture what you showed me earlier," another woman remarks. Precisely the point of this special.

The pork industry is Jamie's next target, as "Jamie Saves Our Bacon" debuts in the UK on January 29.

Jamie's Fowl Dinners
Battery Hen Welfare Trust
Compassion in World Farming
RSPCA: Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

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