Undercover footage has exposed the “horrific” conditions of hens on a farm supplying the UK’s largest egg producer.
Footage released by animal welfare group Animal Equality (AE) shows stacked cages in darkened sheds containing injured and dead hens – some with skin that has been stripped of feathers.
One dead bird can also be seen being pecked by others and another dead bird is filmed in the same place for two consecutive days.
The video, which AE said was obtained through the use of hidden cameras, was taken at Walston Poultry Farm in Blandford Forum, Dorset.
Walston Poultry Farm supplies eggs for Noble Foods’ Big and Fresh brand, which is sold in UK supermarkets including Tesco, Morrisons and Asda. It keeps around 500,000 hens that lay around 140m eggs each year. Noble Foods also owns Happy Eggs, the UK’s biggest free range brand, and Gu desserts.
Noble Foods said in response to the findings it has launched an investigation into Walston Poultry Farm.
Speaking to SM, Toni Shephard, UK director of AE, said that the group decided to send undercover investigators to the farm after Nobel Foods’ claim that all their producers are certified and audited by the British Egg Industry Council Lion Code.
The Lion Code of Practice covers the entire egg production chain and incorporates food safety controls with higher animal welfare requirements than required by UK and EU law.
“We specifically went out to investigate Noble Foods' producers because if you look on their website, it goes on about how much they care about giving hens the quality of life they deserve,” she said.
“It turns out to be a lie – instead they practice locking hens inside crowded cages, which inevitably has led to the frail featherless birds and high mortality that we found on this farm.”
She said undercover investigators left one camera running for four days and during that time, the hens in that particular area were only checked on once, which is in breach of the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations 2007.
Animal welfare law states that birds have to be checked at least once a day and inspections should be “sufficiently thorough to detect illness and injury of individuals hens and special attention should be paid to bodily conditions”.
Shephard said the group released the footage in the hope Noble Foods would change to source only cage-free eggs.
“Dead hens is a disease risk so from a business perspective it’s just poor practice,” she said.
“The supermarkets have now got commitments to go cage-free for their whole eggs by 2025 but of course there will be a lot of eggs that will be used in products, so liquid eggs that still could be coming from caged hens. So for a company like Noble, which supplies so many eggs to the market, if they went cage-free then that could make cages a thing of the past in Britain in the next seven years.”
A Noble Foods spokesperson said: “Having seen the report produced by Animal Equality, relating to our contract producer Walston Poultry, with whom we have a long-standing relationship, we have immediately launched an internal investigation and audit of the site highlighted.
“Separately, the farm will be visited without notice by the British Egg Industry Council responsible for the Lion Code of Practice, the officially approved scheme requiring egg producers to maintain the highest possible welfare standards and environmental controls. Our investigation into this matter is underway and Noble Foods remains committed and vigilant in demanding the highest standards from all its suppliers.”
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