Tesco has come under fire from animal rights campaigners for slashing the price of whole chickens to less than £2, because of concerns over the birds’ welfare.

Teso has cut standard whole birds from£3.30 to£1.99 – saying the discount means families can make roast chicken with all the trimmings for less than£1 per person. Pressure group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) has slammed the company for discounting the poultry, which it said may have been reared in poor conditions.

CIWF director of research and food policy Dr Lesley Lambert said: “If Tesco is prepared to drop their prices in this way, why don’t they decrease it on the higher welfare chickens?”

However, a Tesco spokesman said the£1.99 whole standard chickens would help cash-strapped shoppers keep their bills down.

He said: “No one should feel guilty for buying a chicken just because it is good value. The only reduction we make is in the price – not the welfare.”

Last month the RSPCA called on retailers to stop selling cheap chicken meat from birds reared in poor conditions. An RSPCA spokeswoman said: “Cheap chicken isn’t the answer.”

Seperately, Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy last night defended supermarkets. At a speech last night he said: "There is always a divide in society between those who trust people and those who say people cannot be trusted. Well I put my trust in people, in customers. Supermarkets are their creation. We prosper and grow by delivering what they want. That is our role in society. And our success is a shared success, one that benefits all."