Undercover footage shot at a Surfleet free range egg farm shows chickens in “a terrible state” according to animal protection charity Viva!
Viva! admits the birds were videoed without the consent or knowledge of the farm boss, Stephen Rowbottom, but claims it reveals:
• Dead birds “left to rot on floors”
• Hens with extensive feather loss, “exposing red raw skin”
• One hen “with what appeared to be an oozing prolapse”
The footage was filmed in August as part of a year-long, nationwide investigation by Viva! into conditions inside enriched cage, free-range and organic egg farms.
But a spokesman for Rowbottom Farm says the farm noticed over the summer that some of its birds were suffering feather loss and soon called in the vet, who separated the flock and gave them medication.
He said the firm always seeks veterinary guidance whenever there are health concerns, illnesses happen from time to time on poultry farms and the firm is confident that it deals with them promptly.
The spokesman said: “People that buy our eggs can be assured that our eggs are produced to strict government and EU regulation. We have regular visits from government inspectors, and no concern has been expressed at any time.”
Viva! campaigner Claire Palmer, discussing the footage taken in August, said: “The hens at Rowbottom Farm are in a terrible state, some appeared sick and many extremely unhealthy.
“The sheds were dilapidated, filthy and hygiene standards appeared to be very low.
“Conditions at this farm were among the worst we have seen in our year-long investigation into the British egg industry.
“The intensification of agriculture means that free range now often means industrial free-range and Viva! urges people to choose a more compassionate, vegan diet to truly eliminate animal suffering.”
Viva! says it made a return visit to Rowbottom Farm when only one hen was filmed outside on the range “despite it being a dry, sunny day”.
It adds: “No access to the outside for hens was observed.”
Viva! says birds at free-range farms are provided with “pop-holes” to access an outside range but high stocking levels, competition from other birds and inadequate conditions mean birds may never step outside.
Rowbottom Farm and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) have criticised Viva! for “trespassing” and endangering the lives of thousands of birds.
NFU regional director Richard Hezlet said: “We are justly proud of the high welfare standards that our farmers adhere to in the UK and it is a fact that we have some of the highest farm assurance standards in the world. Here we have a farmer who recognised birds in the flock had a minor health problem and was following veterinary advice on how best to deal with it.
“Viva!’s year-long pursuit of entering poultry farms undercover and trespassing has endangered the lives of thousands of birds. This, along with the fact they’ve waited months to release this footage, goes completely against their animal protection agenda.”
The full statement from Rowbottom Farm says: “Our farm has been a family-run business for over 50 years and we’ve prided ourselves on the welfare and traceability standards we uphold in our free-range and barn egg operations.
“We have 16,000 birds which we work hard to take care of. We noticed over summer that some were suffering with feather loss and soon called the vet who separated the flock and gave them some medication.
“We were shocked to find that this flock of birds, under veterinary supervision, was targeted by the activists who went into the barn undercover in the early hours of the morning. This distressed birds, who were already sick – putting the birds’ lives on the line – with no consideration for our farm’s vital biosecurity measures.
“People that buy our eggs can be assured that our eggs are produced to strict government and EU regulation. We have regular visits from government inspectors, and no concern has been expressed at any time.
“We always seek veterinary guidance whenever we have any concerns over the health of our birds. From time to time illness will happen on poultry farms. But we are confident that we deal with any illnesses promptly to maintain good flock health.”
On behalf of Viva! Claire Palmer told us: “Whilst we acknowledge that the footage was from August, it was passed to us recently and we let the authorities know in a timely manner so that they could investigate.
“We completely refute any allegations of putting flocks in danger. Footage is only obtained via legal means – trespass is not a criminal offence – and with strict biosecurity in mind at all times, as was seen on the footage.
“Biosecurity is something that many farmers seem to ignore themselves. It is absolutely in the public interest for consumers to know where their food comes from.”
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