Chickens reared on farms supplying the likes of Nando’s, Lidl and Asda have been cruelly abused by workers and are in such poor health some cannot even stand, a charity claims.
Footage from Animal Equality showed some birds flapping their wings violently in a desperate attempt to rise – and others splayed out on their backs due to lameness.
At three sites used by Avara Foods – a joint venture between Cargill and Faccenda Foods that is the UK’s second-largest poultry supplier – teams found birds with red-raw skin and dead ones rotting in “overcrowded” sheds.
In one disturbing piece of footage, a dead chicken is being pecked at.
And at one farm, investigators found bin bags full of dead birds.
Defra says chickens must be culled humanely but Animal Equality says footage shows staff breaking some birds’ necks and leaving them to convulse on the floor for several minutes. The charity also claims staff deliberately kicked and stepped on them.
And a clip shows one being thrown against a wall.
Visits were made to the three farms from January to March after a tip-off.
Animal Equality’s director, Dr Toni Vernelli, said: “There were so many birds who couldn’t stand up. They were on their backs flapping frantically trying to stand and it’s futile. Their legs are splayed out at angles, it’s just wrong.
“There was footage of one bird on her side and she can’t stand up. She was pecking in faeces trying to find food. It’s a horrible, slow way to die.”
Evenley, Pimlico and Helmdon farms, in Northamptonshire, are certified by Red Tractor, which says “animal health and welfare is at the heart” of its standards. But Dr Vernelli said of apparent abuse: “Kicking and stepping on birds, breaking their necks but failing to euthanise them in the process is unacceptable.
“Birds are left flapping around for three minutes afterwards. The law and Red Tractor guidelines say staff should be confident at euthanising.”
Red Tractor launched a probe into the three farms. But Dr Vernelli added: “[Red Tractor is] an industry-led body started by farmers to promote British farming and products. Consumers often think it’s a welfare standard, when it isn’t.
“Red Tractor is not as high as, say, an RSPCA-assured farm. It’s the logo that most British people will recognise. But actually, it simply means it was produced in Britain and the farm complies with legal standards.
“Saying that, with their chickens they have gone above the legal standard by requiring perches and bales for the birds.”
An Avara Foods spokesman said: “We take our responsibilities for the birds in our care very seriously and their health and welfare is of the utmost importance.
“Our farmers are required to carefully inspect flocks on a daily basis – to identify any birds requiring attention or which may need to be culled.
“We are closely examining the contents of this report to assess compliance against our procedures.
“Initial findings indicate that, for the farm involved, our requirement to remove any culled or fallen birds as soon as they are identified has not been followed.
“Once our detailed investigation has been completed we will take all necessary action to ensure that this situation does not reoccur.
“Anyone found not to be meeting our standards will be subjected to comprehensive retraining and further steps will be taken if appropriate.
“Red Tractor, the RSPCA and the Government’s Animal & Plant Health Agency have also made unannounced visits since this footage was taken and were satisfied with the health and welfare of the birds.” Red Tractor said it has set up a programme of unannounced inspections at the sites.
It said in a statement: “As soon as we were made aware of alleged breaches to our standards, we launched an independent investigation. The footage did highlight some issues in terms of Red Tractor standards and we require all personnel involved with the three farms to undergo additional training, including the prompt identification of sick birds, bird euthanasia and behaviour around catching.”
A spokesman for restaurant chain Nando’s said: “Animal welfare is as important to us as it is to customers, which is why all of our chickens are barn-reared in the UK to Red Tractor standards. We expect all our suppliers to operate to high standards and we are disappointed with the footage.
“We will be working with the supplier to get to the bottom of these allegations.”
Asda and Lidl would not comment but directed us to a statement from the British Retail Consortium.
It said: “Our members take their responsibilities to animal welfare very seriously and work closely with trusted suppliers so that high welfare standards are upheld. They have strict processes in place and will thoroughly investigate any evidence of non-conformity to ensure that any problems are immediately addressed.”
After viewing the footage, the RSPCA carried out its own investigation. The charity said: “We shared the concerns raised about welfare and our inspectors visited.
“There were problems with some of the birds’ legs in the footage but staff produced evidence they had been under the care of a vet and had been receiving appropriate treatment.
“However, we have real concerns about the realities of intensive farming practices which see fast-growing birds bred to provide maximum meat in a short space of time, which can cause severe health problems and lead to suffering.”
When asked for comment, Pimlico Farm referred us to the statement from Avara Foods.
Helmdon Farm and Evenley Farm were unavailable for comment.
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