AN RSPCA chief has slammed appalling conditions designed to fatten turkeys in the run up to Christmas.

John Atter, Eastern regional RSPCA manager, condemned modern breeding techniques which mean millions of turkeys are now grotesquely overweight.

He said: "To achieve maximum yield of the preferred breast meat, male birds have become so large that they can scarcely get close enough to a hen to mate - and any attempt could seriously injure the female."

Crammed into a space not much larger than the roasting tin they will be cooked in, many of the turkeys suffer lameness and painful skin conditions due to their size.

And the RSPCA is urging shoppers to spare a thought for turkeys this Christmas.

Mr Atter added: "Consumers can help turkeys by asking their supermarket or butcher for free range turkeys which are slower growing.

"In the long term the turkey breeding companies must concentrate on producing naturally proportioned birds for higher welfare instead of maximum breast meat yield."

Isobel Bretherthon, spokesman for the National Farmers Union, defended UK breeding standards.

She said: "Bird welfare standards are higher in Britain than anywhere else in Europe.

"Farms and barns are inspected by vets to ensure high standards of treatment throughout. This is important as high standards mean tasty turkeys."