The great organic chicken scandal

July 19, 2006

ES article

Veg Box Diaries regular, Kinson, sent me a scan of the above article from the Evening Standard. It seems Abel and Cole have been delivering Sainsburys’ ‘Taste the Difference’ chickens to their customers and charging £11.50 a pop. Naughty, naughty.

You try your best to buy the right stuff, but unless you actually go to the farm and dig it out the ground yourself – or wring the neck of the chuck with your own hands – you never really know what you’re getting. Its a question of trust, and vigilance.

Here’s another cautionary tale. At the farmer’s market in Islington last Sunday I picked up a lovely looking free-range (not organic) chicken. I asked all the right questions – breed, lifestyle, what feed was used. It all sounded tickety-boo. I was told they were fed on a mix of soya bean and cereal. Sounds OK, right? Last night, Radio 4 solemnly announced that the Brazilian rainforest is being decimated to clear land for growing soya beans… to feed British chickens. Yikes! Even the Bishop of Liverpool was declaring a boycott of soya-fed chickens.

Sometimes, you can’t win for trying.

I’ve wondered for a while how well-regulated some of London farmers’ markets are. The one at the bottom of Muswell Hill seemed full of chancers and bandwagon-jumpers. I remember one particularly flaky-looking character flogging punnets of green-sludge, allegedly coriander pesto, for 2 or 3 quid a snort. Taking the proverbial.

From my limited experience, the ones run by these dudes are pretty good. I’ve been to the one in Notting Hill and Islington and always had good produce, with a fair scattering of Soil Association-certified stallholders.

I agree with Catherine Ostler – green shouldn’t mean gullible. It would be a shame to let unscrupulous suppliers and clueless punters give the whole organic fandangle a bad name.

4 Responses to “The great organic chicken scandal”

  1. Kinson Says:

    Hmmm – so much for ‘An anonymous source sent me an article’….. 😦

  2. gastropunk Says:

    I guess the first rule is always – protect your sources. I’ve let you down, man. What can I say?

  3. guy watson Says:

    Don’t be too down on Abel and Cole over this chicken. I imagine it came via Lloyd Maunder, a pretty good, if fairly large company down here in devon who source their chickens from small (ish) producers in South Devon. We used to sell chickens with our boxes but stopped largely because of the problems of getting a good reliable supply from smaller producers. At least these are soil association registered which is a higher standard for poultry than most other orgainc certifying bodies.
    If you really want your chickens grown, plucked, drawn and supplied from small scale producers (who also make a decent living) I suspect you wuld have to put up wth a higher price, unreliable supply and variable quality.


  4. gastropunk Says:

    Thanks for the view from the ground on this issue. In retrospect this post was a bit of a flippant knee-jerk reaction to the article in the Standard (which is probably not the most objective of papers on green issues anyway). Point taken about the difficulty of maintaining a reliable supply of good organic chickens.

    On your last point, I do think that we need to be prepared to pay at least twice, if not three or four times, as much for our meat as we do now. An unreliable supply is also something that maybe we need to tolerate. Perhaps it would be better to view a roast chicken as a rare luxury rather than a weekly necessity. On the other hand, variable quality is something many people (including me) wouldn’t be so happy about – particularly after paying around £15 for a bird.

    I suppose the ‘River Cottage’ fantasy of a nation of smallholders producing top-notch organic produce to sell to locals at farmer’s markets is a pipe-dream. Nice to have something to aim for, though.

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