The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has called on UK consumers to exercise their economic might to improve the living conditions of meat chickens.

The animal protection charity has released a report claiming that animals reared using intensive farming techniques are significantly less healthy than those reared to higher welfare standards. 

The study, part of the RSPCA’s ‘Everyone’s a Winner’ report, found that birds reared to RSPCA standards were healthier, suffering from 82% less hock burn and 46% less foot pad burns. The mortality rate was 65% lower among birds reared in better conditions. 

Dr Marc Cooper, RSPCA senior scientific officer, said: “This is the first study of its kind which provides clear evidence that meat chickens raised to the RSPCA’s strict welfare standards suffer a significantly lower incidence of some serious health problems compared to standard chickens.”

The RSPCA said that it found producers are willing to rear their birds in better conditions, provided retailers will stock ethically reared birds. The animal welfare charity said that its aim of improving the lives of poultry could be attained with significant consumer pressure.

In contrast to industry standards, the RSPCA’s welfare standards for meat chickens insist the birds are given enough space to flap their wings, lighting during the day and darkness at night to allow rest, perches, straw bales and pecking objects to encourage activit  and that the chickens are selected from genetically slower growing breeds to help overcome the serious welfare problems associated with faster growth rates.

The charity said that UK shoppers have already improved the lives of egg-laying hens by buying free-rage and barn-laid eggs and called on consumers to demonstrate the same compassion for chickens raised to produce meat.