Several poultry farms which supply some of the UK’s top firms have been accused of mass mistreatment of chickens following an investigation by vegan charity Viva!
The charity released footage showing chickens at farms that supply Tesco, Sainbury’s, Lidl, as well as fast food brand KFC, which was recently listed top in a chicken welfare ranking.
Secret filming took place at sites belonging to Moy Park, Hook 2 Sisters and Avara Foods
Over 30,000 chickens were found living in 15 sheds at a site in Herefordshire, one of approximately 300 farms contracted to Avara Foods, Tesco’s biggest poultry supplier.
All locations showed a number of birds deemed “severely disabled”, while others were said to be dying from thirst or having resorted to cannibalism.
Dead birds were also found at sites owned by all suppliers, with “countless” dead birds at Moy Park farms “left to rot amongst the living”. Some of the birds were thought to have grown too heavy for their legs to carry them, so were unable to walk to food and drink stations.
A spokeswoman for the charity said: “The damning footage also shows dead birds trodden into the ground and covered with litter, which appear to have been left for some time.”
Despite the charity’s claims, all sites are certified as Red Tractor Assured.
Responding to the allegations, Avara Foods told Supply Management the accusations, particularly around the presence of dead birds, demonstrate “a gross lack of understanding about modern farming practices”.
A spokesperson said: “During waking hours the bird houses are walked regularly and any birds found to be struggling are attended to; the fallen birds identified in the footage would have been removed in the morning.
“In addition, it would appear some of the footage was captured during the national Covid-19 lockdown and while the UK was battling a bird flu epidemic.”
Moy Park told SM it has a "zero-tolerance attitude" toward anything that jeopardises the health and welfare of its birds.
After receiving the footage the company carried out a thorough investigation and said “the farm was independently audited immediately and was certified as fully compliant with all animal welfare standards”.
“Together with veterinary partners and staff, and thorough regular external audits, we continue to closely monitor the welfare conditions on our farms and ensure the highest standards are adhered to,” it said.
Chickens at a poultry farm in Somerset, which works for Hook 2 Sisters, were found to have respiratory problems, and “hock” burns caused by ammonia on the floor.
Hook 2 Sisters food group is the largest poultry producer in Europe and claims to supply a third of all poultry products eaten in the UK, including to Aldi, the Co-op, Lidl, Sainsbury, Tesco, and KFC.
A Tesco spokesperson told Supply Management: “Independent audits of the three farms found that all assurance scheme and legislative requirements were being met but we are continuing to monitor compliance against our own stringent welfare standards.”
Sainsbury’s and Lidl said they also review their sites on a regular basis and Lidl confirmed the company’s suppliers comply with nationally recognised standards, including Red Tractor Assured, RSPCA certification and Organic Farmers and Growers.
The claims follow the recent announcement that KFC is the top UK fast food chain for chicken welfare, according to this year’s The Pecking Order – a ranking of brands by their poultry welfare standards.
The World Animal Protection which compiles the list said KFC “once again had shown leadership” in regards to its chicken supply chain standards.
Since Viva!’s claims, The World Animal Protection clarified that its report looked into transparency within supply chains and progress made by fast food restaurants in reaching targets set out by the Better Chicken Commitment, a recognised set of animal welfare standards.
Jonty Whittleton, World Animal Protection global campaign head said: “The Viva! investigation focuses on current practices in a number of farms with concerning results that companies need to address.”
“Unfortunately some schemes will not audit 100% of farms, but only a random sample. This often results in some of the worst farms slipping through the cracks. We will continue to work with and hold to account KFC and other companies, to make the necessary changes in their supply chains to improve the lives of chickens."
All organisations named were approached for comment.