The real cost of the chicken in your supermarket trolley

As the cost of living bites in the UK and in many parts of the world, the country’s favourite meat is also getting more expensive. But it remains, when adjusted for inflation, at record low prices.

As journalist Simon Usborne tells Hannah Moore, the reason chicken is often so much cheaper than other meat can be traced to a postwar farmer’s competition to find the “chicken of tomorrow”. At the time, chickens were still reared primarily as egg layers. But this contest set out to find a bloodline that would provide the fastest-growing and plumpest birds. The winning breed was the start of a revolution and a new evolutionary path that with intensive farming techniques led us on the path to the whole chicken on a supermarket shelf costing less than a pint of beer.

For years celebrity chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver have highlighted the ethical and environmental compromises required to keep chicken so cheap. But now many in the industry itself are doubting the business model they are trying to sustain. And with families struggling to keep their bills manageable, something may soon have to give.

Fast growing broilers in intensive shed production

Photograph: Open Cages

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