The Home Office in Britain is displaying its latest campaign against knife crimes on boxes of fried chicken, sparking outrage. (Home Office)

LONDON — An initiative designed to tackle Britain’s persistent problem with violent knife crimes is being described as racially insensitive by critics, after the government began placing anti-knife messages on fried-chicken boxes throughout the country.

Critics of the campaign, announced by Britain’s Home Office on Wednesday, have called it racist for seemingly leaning into an offensive stereotype about fried-chicken consumers and for broadly targeting a segment of the population that has been demonized by the knife crime trend.

Lawmaker David Lammy spoke forcefully amid a storm of online criticism of the campaign, which will see more than 300,000 chicken boxes with the anti-crime message distributed in fast-food restaurants across England and Wales.

The packaging will feature real-life stories from people affected by knife crime. The boxes include the hashtag #KnifeFree.

“Is this some kind of joke?! Why have you chosen chicken shops? What’s next, #KnifeFree watermelons?” Lammy tweeted.

Speaking to the Guardian, Lammy called the campaign a “ridiculous stunt” and said it was “explicitly racist or, at best, unfathomably stupid.”

“The Home Office is using taxpayers’ money to sponsor an age-old trope,” he said.

Diane Abbott, a leader of the opposition party, called it “crude” and “offensive.”

Britain has suffered from a rise in violent knife crimes over the last five years that has featured prominently in political debates and has raised questions about what prompted the spike.

According to statistics published by the BBC, there have been 43,516 knife-related crimes from March 2018 through March of this year, and medical workers have reported that wounds are becoming more severe. That marks an 80 percent increase from March 2014.

Knives have mostly been used to commit assaults and robberies — while major crimes like murders and rapes account for a small percentage of knife-related incidents.

The victims and perpetrators of the knife offenses were overwhelmingly young male minorities, the BBC reported, citing 2018 figures from the London mayor’s office.

The Home Office defended the chicken box plan in a statement on Thursday, saying it was rolled out after a trial received positive feedback earlier this year. It said the initiative is targeted at young people 10 to 21 years old from all backgrounds.

“We chose to partner with chicken shops as research … showed that 67% of customers are aged between 16-24 so this would allow us effectively reach young people as part of our wider #knifefree campaign,” the statement said.

On Thursday, Abbott argued in a piece published by the Metro newspaper that the government needs to have personal contact with those at the center of the problem and not waste resources on ineffective campaigns like the chicken boxes.

The public health approach involves police working closely with social services, education services and putting in place mentoring programs for those vulnerable to crime.

“You can’t mentor someone with a fried chicken box,” Abbott wrote.

Kit Malthouse, a high ranking law enforcement minister, said the chicken boxes are part of a larger effort to tackle the knife crime issue that has included putting 20,000 new police officers on the street.

“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,” he said.

Amid the polarizing debate over the chicken boxes on Thursday, a man was stabbed outside the Home Office headquarters in London and the building was placed on lockdown as armed officers arrived.

“The victim is receiving medical care,” a Home Office spokesperson said, adding that the victim’s injuries are not life-threatening.