Britain’s intensive chicken production has created an ideal environment for pandemic-level disease, according to a new report published by animal welfare charity Open Cages and scientists from the Mayo Clinic and University of Winchester.  The report, called “A British Pandemic: The Cruelty and Danger of Supermarket Chicken,” cites scientific literature to argue that “cheap” chicken is leading to a “catastrophic” pandemic, and that the United Kingdom’s major supermarkets are to blame. A comparison of British supermarkets found that none of the major stores (such as Tesco, Co-op, and Sainsbury’s) have taken steps to address the issue, with the exception of Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, both of which have signed the Better Chicken Commitment to support higher welfare initiatives to be met by 2026. 

“The findings of this report are alarming,” Open Cages CEO Connor Jackson said. “For years we have been trying to work with British supermarkets to address the unacceptable cruelty in their chicken supply chain. But now, with the concerns of leading public health scientists, we cannot escape the fact that it is not only animals who will pay the price for their inaction.”

The report suggests that the fundamental causes of these zoonotic diseases are intensive farming practices such as breeding for rapid growth and overcrowding. Major British retailers like Tesco, Co-op, and Sainsbury’s choose intensive practices to keep prices low.

Thousands of people worldwide died from the 2009 Swine Flu (H1N1), a virus traced back to an intensive pig farm. If these diseases develop even higher pathogenicity, like the 2002-3 SARS epidemic, the consequences could be “even more devastating.” With bird flu outbreaks emerging consistently across the UK, all it takes is for one flock virus to gain high transmissibility and for one human to catch it to wreak havoc on the British population. 

“From single use plastics to monkey labor, Supermarkets have shown that they can make responsible progress in the face of new information,” Jackson said. “But with every day that they fail to sign the Better Chicken Commitment, the safety of the British people and the animals under our care remain in danger. Not all retailers will take heed of this report’s warnings, so it will be crucial to see which ones do.”