The #knifefree campaign, which sees more than 321,000 chicken boxes printed with real life stories of young people who have chosen to pursue activities like boxing or musiec instead of carrying a knife, has been criticised by politicians as well as comedians and critics on Twitter.
The boxes are replacing standard packaging at both independent and branched owned shops, including Morley's, Chicken Cottage and Dixy Chicken and have been distributed to more than 210 outlets.
Labour MP David Lammy said the “ridiculous stunt” was either racist or “unfathomably stupid”.
He told the Guardian: “The Home Office is using taxpayers’ money to sponsor an age-old trope. Boris Johnson has already called black people ‘piccaninnies with watermelon smiles’.
“Now his government is pushing the stereotype that black people love fried chicken.
He added: “This ridiculous stunt is either explicitly racist or, at best, unfathomably stupid.
“I know it might cost a bit more time, effort and money, but I would love it if you would announce a programme of investment in our local communities instead of spending five minutes on a harmful gimmick.”
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbot tweeted: "Instead of investing in a public health approach to violent crime, the Home Office have opted for yet another crude, offensive and probably expensive campaign.
"They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them."
Instead of investing in a public health approach to violent crime, the Home Office have opted for yet another crude, offensive and probably expensive campaign. They would do better to invest in our communities not demonise them. https://t.co/dGZBo3IypV— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) August 14, 2019
TV and comedy writer James Felton also criticised the campaign, saying: "Honest to God, if the best idea you have to tackle knife crime is to write stuff on fried chicken you should quit power forever in embarrassment, not tweet it out proudly like you've just solved world hunger."
Honest to god if the best idea you have to tackle knife crime is to write stuff on fried chicken you should quit power forever in embarrassment, not tweet it out proudly like you’ve just solved world hunger you ridiculous sack of used dicks.— James Felton (@JimMFelton) August 14, 2019
Announcing the initiative, Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: "These chicken boxes will bring home to thousands of young people the tragic consequences of carrying a knife and challenge the idea that it makes you safer.
"The Government is doing everything it can to tackle the senseless violence that is traumatising communities and claiming too many young lives, including bolstering the police's ranks with 20,000 new police officers on our streets."